NCAA Football Predictions: Championship Week Opening Line Report and Picks
And the award for worst team in the country for 2017 goes to the UTEP Miners. They are the only school to finish without a victory (0-12) and weren't a good bet, either, finishing at 2-9-1 ATS. Only Hawaii (1-10-1 ATS) was worse in that regard. The 12 losses were a UTEP record, and it was the school's first winless season since 1973 (0-11).
UTEP will be in the market for a coach as well. Sean Kugler stepped aside when the school was 0-5 and replaced on an interim basis by Mike Price. He also coached at the school from 2004-12 but isn't considered a long-term candidate.
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Speaking of coaching changes, there was a flurry of activity on Sunday around the country. As expected, Texas A&M fired Kevin Sumlin and Arizona State did the same to Todd Graham. Sumlin is going to get another job - in fact, some reports are that Sumlin to ASU is a done deal. Texas A&M owes Sumlin a $10.4 million buyout, which will be paid in the next 60 days and isn't reduced if he takes another coaching job. Must be nice! Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks will serve as interim A&M coach for the team's bowl game. Graham, meanwhile, will stay on through the Sun Devils' bowl game.
One major opening was filled on Sunday. Florida, as I predicted, has hired Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, a former UF offensive coordinator. Mullen was at Mississippi State since 2009. His 69-46 record for the Bulldogs made him the second-winningest coach in school history, behind only Jackie Sherrill. Mullen will not stay at MSU through a bowl game. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Greg Knox will serve as the interim coach for the bowl. Seems like a good hire as Florida has struggled to find a good quarterback since Tim Tebow graduated. Mullen is considered a QB guru in having tutored Tebow, Dak Prescott and Alex Smith (while at Utah).
Mullen was also being considered for the Tennessee job, but Florida is a better gig so it's no surprise Mullen went that route. UT was set to hire former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Bucs coach Greg Schiano, but when news of the school finalizing a deal with Schiano broke, the blowback from Vol Nation was so severe that Schiano will not be the next Tennessee coach. Wow. What a terrible look for the school. A memorandum of understanding was signed by both parties Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, but apparently many fans found Schiano's connection to the Jerry Sandusky era at Penn State too distasteful (I think many are just using that as an excuse because Schiano isn't Jon Gruden basically). Schiano was a Penn State assistant under Joe Paterno during Sandusky's tenure and Schiano's name came up in some testimony. Now it's not clear where UT will look (Gruden's not coming). It had been interested in Chip Kelly, but he landed at UCLA.
Here are a few opening Week 14 lines that caught my eye. Rankings from the most recent College Football Playoff Top 25, so some will change on Tuesday. This will be my final Opening Line Report of the season. See you next September! Of course, Doc's will have you covered with all of the bowl games.
No. 11 USC vs. No. 21 Stanford (+3, 57.5): The Pac-12 Championship Game from Levi's Stadium outside San Francisco is the only Friday matchup on the Week 14 schedule. I see no possible way for USC to reach the playoff even with a blowout win and utter chaos elsewhere. Thus, the Pac-12 will be sitting out the national semifinals for the second time in three years. And the conference champion doesn't get its usual spot in the Rose Bowl, either, because that is one of the semifinals this year. On Sept. 9, USC hosted Stanford and won 42-24 to end a three-game skid in the series. The Trojans had 623 total yards -- the most ever given up by a David Shaw-coached Stanford team. Sam Darnold was 21 of 26 for 316 yards and four scores. USC also had two 100-yard rushers. Bryce Love, a likely Heisman finalist, had 160 yards and a TD on 17 carries for Stanford. The Pick: USC.
No. 2 Miami vs. No. 3 Clemson (-9.5, 47.5): ACC Championship Game from Charlotte. Miami will not be No. 2 in the next CFP Top 25 after being upset at Pittsburgh on Friday. UM dropped from No. 2 to No. 7 in the new AP poll; Clemson is No. 1 in the AP and USA Today polls thanks to the losses by Miami and Alabama. Hurricanes fans should send Dabo Swinney a thank-you card. Why? The last time these schools met was Oct. 24, 2015, in Miami. The Hurricanes were trashed 58-0, the worst loss in school history and rock bottom in the Al Golden Era. He would be fired the next day. That, of course, led to the sequence of events that led to the hiring of Mark Richt. Just a slight upgrade there. Presumably, this is a College Football Playoff quarterfinal. The winner should be in no matter what. Clemson has won the past two ACC title games on the way to playing for the National Championship. The Pick: Clemson.
No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (+5.5, 53): Big Ten Championship Game from Indianapolis. I believe Wisconsin is hugely overrated because it played such an easy schedule, but I will say the Badgers deserve a playoff spot as an undefeated Power 5 champion if they win this game. Will QB J.T. Barrett be ready for the Buckeyes? He left Saturday's win over Michigan with a knee injury; apparently, Barrett was injured by a cameraman during pregame warm-ups but played until midway through the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins replaced Barrett and helped lead a comeback victory in his first action. Barrett says he's playing against the Badgers. You may remember that OSU missed out on this game in 2016 yet made the playoff. And in 2014, OSU was on the outside of the Top 4 but jumped in with a 59-0 destruction of the Badgers in this game. The schools most recently played last year in Madison, a 30-23 OT Buckeyes victory. UW led 16-6 at halftime. The Pick: Ohio State (as long as Barrett does play).
No. 6 Auburn vs. No. 7 Georgia (+3, 49): SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Tigers knocked off top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Saturday, 26-14 to win the West Division and jump up to No. 4 in the AP poll. In a way, that Alabama loss might have been the best thing to happen to the SEC because it's now possible that conference gets two teams in the playoff: the winner here is a lock and the Tide could still also make it. It would help Alabama's case if Wisconsin and Oklahoma both lose. Maybe just one doing so would be enough. On Nov. 11, Auburn knocked off Georgia 40-17 when the Bulldogs were No. 1 in the CFP. Kerryon Johnson, another likely Heisman finalist (he was hurt vs. the Tide but I'm assuming he's playing here), rushed for 167 yards and had a 55-yard TD catch. Jarrett Stidham, who was spectacular against the Tide, threw for 214 yards and three scores. Dawgs QB Jake Fromm was just 13 of 28 passing and UGA was held to 46 yards rushing on 32 carries. The Pick: Auburn (as long as Johnson plays).
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 TCU (+6.5, 62.5): Maybe it's because I've never spent much time in the Southwest, but I don't have much love for the overrated Big 12. So in a way, I'll be rooting for TCU here because a Frogs win would keep the Big 12 out of the playoff for the third time in its four years of existence. That would be so ironic because the conference petitioned the NCAA to allow it to play a Big 12 title game again (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington) even without having 12 teams or splitting into divisions. The Big 12 originally lost its title game due to another wave of realignment following the 2010 season. Oklahoma easily handled TCU in Norman on Nov. 11, 38-20. Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield threw for 333 yards and three scores, and running back Rodney Anderson had 290 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. The Frogs only joined the Big 12 in 2012, so this is their first title game. OU has played in eight and won seven of them. The Pick: Oklahoma.
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