Weekend watch list

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The two games on my must watch list this weekend have the potential to really shake up the rankings. As we enter the second half of the season and get closer to playoff season, game outcomes are event more important.

The first Saturday match up is in SEC country with No. 1 Alabama traveling to No. 9 Tennessee.

Tennessee has put up quite the impressive performance this year. It has just one loss and that was in Week 6 against Texas A&M in double overtime. But perhaps the most notable Vol stat is that in five of six games this season, they have turned up the heat in the second half to come from behind and either win or force overtime.

Alabama has been the undoubted favorite since the beginning of the season. Nick Saban’s Roll Tide won’t go down easy, but this is their second straight road trip. Last week they were at No. 16 Arkansas, which actually put up a challenge. Bama only won 49-30.

I believe Roll Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts will decide the game. Hurts has 256 yards of total offense this season and he could be a real struggle for a Vol defensive line down two starters.

The Vols have more on the line with this game than the Tide. If Tennessee loses, the University of Florida is right back in the mix for the SEC East. If that is the case, Tennessee would need Florida to lose one more time. With both teams having two losses, the Vols would own the tiebreaker.

It wouldn’t be a huge deal to Bama if they lost to the Vols. Suffering just one loss the Tide would most likely still be in playoff contention but the pressure would be on to win out the season. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.

A few hours later is the biggest match up in the Big Ten: No. 8 Wisconsin versus No. 2 Ohio State. A Badger win could heavily change the playoff picture, but this game is more about the Buckeyes and other Big 10 opponent, University of Michigan, than it is the Badgers.

The Buckeyes need the win in order to cement themselves over the Wolverines until they face off on Nov. 26. Plus a Buckeye win over the Badgers on the road would be much more impressive than the Wolverines’ win over the Badgers at home, 14-7.

The loss to the Wolverines is the only loss for Wisconsin this season. A win over the Buckeyes and winning out the remainder of the season is needed to keep the Badgers’ playoff hopes alive. If Wisconsin wins on Saturday, it will be the third win over a top-10 team this season.

This game will come down to defense (Wisconsin) versus speed (Ohio State). Wisconsin has one of the best defenses in the country, but Ohio State has more playmakers, including one named J.T. Barrett. The Badgers have proved themselves a lot more than the Buckeyes this season as well, with games against LSU, Michigan State and Michigan. Ohio State’s toughest opponent was Oklahoma, who maybe wasn’t as big of a deal as we thought.

MLB

In case you haven’t heard, it’s postseason in Major League Baseball. Friday night starts the race for the American League pennant and Saturday for the National League pennant.

In the American League Championship Series, we have the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians. Both teams are unbeaten in the postseason. Toronto started by having to beat Baltimore in the AL wild card game, and the Indians had to beat the Red Sox at Fenway. This should be a series for the books with both teams red hot, not to mention on July 1 they competed through 19 innings to determine a winner. Cleveland has home field advantage to start, and first pitch is at 6 p.m.

In the National League Championship Series we have the headline winners of the month: the Chicago Cubs. If anyone has heard anything about the MLB postseason, it has most likely been about the Cubs. Chicago had to take down San Francisco in order to enter the pennant race, and not many thought it was possible — it is an even year mind you — but they got the job done. Joining Chicago is the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers and Washington Nationals faced off Thursday night in the NLDS Game 5 with Los Angeles taking it, 4-3.

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Tigers vs. Tide: Fighting an inner battle to predict a winner

And yet another college football bowl season is almost behind us. There is one game standing between today and a long seven month wait: the college football national championship.

After extremely one-sided semifinal match ups on New Year’s Eve, we were presented with the two contenders, the Tigers out of Clemson University and the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama.

I was beyond excited for the semifinal matchups. I predicted one high scoring extremely offensive game, Clemson vs. Oklahoma; and one low-scoring defensive heavy game, Alabama vs. Michigan State; and, well, I got neither. And above all, both teams I predicted to win fell and fell ugly.

Sometimes I catch myself being that sports fan who loses all interest when my team loses, and currently I am walking the tightrope with that issue.

The only way I have learned to snap out of this mindset is to pick a new team, go all in. Unfortunately that has presented another issue for me. I am not an SEC fan; never have been, and that makes me want to march straight to the Clemson sidelines. But comparing the two teams and having watched them play all year, I just don’t think the Tigers have what it takes to stop the Roll Tide in their tracks.

Despite the fact that Clemson is undefeated, entering the championship game at 14-0, the Tigers are still the underdogs. It comes down to can Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and the rest of the offense get past Alabama’s intense defensive line and then also stop Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry?

Clemson will be the strongest offensive opponent the Tide will face to this date, but Bama displayed against Michigan State that it has the toughest defensive line in the country. Its front seven also all come in with more than one season of experience.

While you can’t say the Tigers don’t have a defense, we can say that they are young. Clemson had the top defensive line in the country in 2014, but then its entire front seven went and graduated. If Alabama’s Jake Coker shows up and completes at least 75 percent of his passes like he did against Michigan State, the Tigers will have a lot more to stop than just Henry.

No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama will meet on the gridiron Monday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The winner will go down as the best team in the 2015-16 season, the loser a strong second, but as my dad always told me, second place is first loser.

With a 40 bowl game postseason, minus the only game that matters, I am 23-17 with predictions. Fifty-seven percent is not the greatest but definitely not the worst either. At least I am above even.

I’m not predicting a blowout by any means, but I think betting against Bama is the wrong decision here. As much as I dislike the SEC and would love for Clemson to win it all, 15-0, Roll Tide whatever the rest of it is.

Prediction: Alabama

Who’s In and Who’s Out

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The last time Michigan State went to the Big 10 Championship they beat the favored Ohio State Buckeyes, 34-24. With the win the Spartans earned themselves a ticket to the Rose Bowl where they went on to beat Stanford, 24-20.

For as crazy of a season it’s been, the College Football Playoff committee’s job is looking pretty easy right now. After conference championship weekend last year, there were some not-so-happy fan bases with legitimate arguments for why they should be in the playoff, but this year, if everything plays out like it should Saturday, No. 1 to 4 are pretty self-explanatory.

There are four major conference title games taking place Saturday: ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The two games with the highest probability of making the committee’s job difficult, are No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 8 North Carolina and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida. But before I get into the different worst-case scenarios, let us take a look at what we already know for sure.

The first guaranteed is that the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners are in no matter what. There is a lot of discussion about the teams ahead of them and the teams below them, but there isn’t much talk about that No. 3 spot. The only question I have for the committee is how come last year the Big 12 conference was left out due to its lack of conference championship game, whereas this year they are automatically in due to the same fact? We will save that for another time.

The second guarantee is that the winner of the Big Ten championship game will have a spot in the playoffs. The undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes take on the 11-1 Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are the favorite, but only by a couple points.

If Clemson and Alabama, the favorites in both their respective games win, the rankings will remain No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma, and No. 4 Iowa/Michigan State. But if either the Tigers or Tide fall or it’s a miracle and they both do, there are several teams on the sideline with valid arguments as to why they should be the next team in.

Scenario 1: Clemson loses to North Carolina, and Alabama beats Florida

If Clemson loses, it would also be added to the list of sideline teams with the potential of making that No. 4 spot. In years past, No. 1 teams who lost their conference championships were demoted to No. 4, but that was before we had this thing called the college football playoffs. But the Tigers still have an extremely impressive schedule and win over Notre Dame.

Just because North Carolina wins, the Tar Heels are not guaranteed a spot. Although North Carolina has gone 11-0 since its season-opener loss to South Carolina, that loss along with a weak schedule that included two Football Championship Subdivision opponents, will probably not be enough for the Tar Heels even with a head-to-head win over the Tigers.

Scenario 2: Alabama loses to Florida, and Clemson beats North Carolina

No. 18 Florida has zero chance of making the playoff even with a win over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Florida has had a very lackluster back end of the season with close wins over Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt. After it ended the regular season with a loss to in-state rival Florida State, the Gators do not stand a chance.

But if Alabama loses, it doesn’t have the same opportunity as Clemson to still be in the top four. After suffering an early season loss to an Ole Miss team that failed to produce throughout the remainder of the season, the Tide cannot afford another loss. A two-loss Alabama team would have even less of a playoff argument than sideline teams.

Craziest thing about an Alabama loss, the college football playoff would be SEC-less. No one ever predicted that happening.

Scenario 3: Alabama and Clemson lose

While this scenario is the least likely, it is the best chance the sideline teams have of making it into the coveted college football playoffs.

SIDELINERS

With scenarios one through three, none of which are the most probable, Ohio State, Stanford, North Carolina and the Big Ten loser have opportunities of making the playoffs.

Ohio State: If Michigan State beats Iowa, Ohio State’s argument and resume only gets better. With the defending national champion’s only loss coming from a CFP team, the Buckeyes have a high chance. Also considering the Big Ten East division has the stiffer competition — MSU, Michigan and OSU — it has a better argument than Iowa, the Big Ten championship loser in this scenario.

Stanford: If Stanford wins the Pac-12 Conference game against the University of Southern California, the Cardinal can set itself up for a playoff spot. Stanford is going against the fact it is a two-loss team.

With a nine-game conference schedule, plus a conference championship and five games against top-20 opponents, you can almost ignore the season opening nonconference loss to No. 13 Northwestern on the road. A win over then No. 4 Notre Dame kind of cancels out the 38-36 loss to No. 15 Oregon, who has seemed to redeem itself since September.

Where Stanford would beat any of its sideline counterparts would be in its conference title. No. 24 USC has no chance of making the playoff even with a win.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ best chance in making the playoffs would be to win the ACC and for Alabama to lose. Like mentioned before, with just a Clemson loss, North Carolina would not be an automatic. The Tar Heels, like the Cardinal, would have a conference title on their side, but schedule weakness would be their biggest holdback.

Big Ten loser: The best chance of the loser of the Big Ten championship making the playoff is if both Alabama and Clemson lose.

If Michigan State is the loser, it would be a two-loss team like Stanford, but unlike Stanford would not have a title to back it up. The Spartans’ losses come from two higher-ranked teams, but some would say the Cardinal had the tougher schedule. MSU has the head-to-head on Ohio State but would have one more loss than the Buckeyes.

If Iowa is the loser, the Hawkeyes’ only loss would be from a playoff team much like Ohio State. Iowa would still have a better record than Stanford but wouldn’t have the title for an extra boost. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would have one loss suffered by the same team, but while Iowa at least made it to the title game, Ohio State had the tougher schedule.

Be Prepared for Week 12 Upsets

In the last two weeks we have witnessed games that have had quite the impact in the College Football Playoff rankings. In Week 10 Clemson showed its dominance with a win over Florida State; the Tigers’ only real chance to lose in what is left of the season. The Crimson Tide was ranked No. 4 when they took down No. 2 LSU, dropping LSU to just inside the top 10. Michigan State traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on the unranked Cornhuskers and lost, dropping the Spartans six spots to No. 13. Oklahoma State defeated TCU, removing the Horned Frogs from the top 10, and moving the undefeated Cowboys closer to playoff contention.

Week 11 brought another slew of game changers. No. 10 Utah lost to unranked Arizona. LSU fell for the second week in a row, to an Arkansas team who beat Ole Miss the week prior. The Tigers have moved from No. 2 to No. 15 within two weeks. The undoubted favorite in the Pacific-12, Stanford, lost to the Oregon Ducks, solidifying the Pac-12’s fate of having a two-loss conference champion. Finally, Oklahoma beat No. 6 Baylor to make the Bears’ path to the playoffs even more difficult than it already was.

Two weeks ago when the first rankings were released I said not to let the rankings bother you, it was early and there was still a lot of football to be played. Going into Week 10, there were 11 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Currently there are five and none from two power five conferences, the SEC and the Pac-12. I can’t say that the CFP rankings released this past Tuesday make any more of a difference, but as we wind down the regular season, what the committee is saying does tend to have more of an impact. We all want to see where our teams stand and if our top-four picks coincide with the committee.

The final ranking will be released on Dec. 6, and that is the only one that matters. It’s the one that seals each team’s fate for the season, and Week 12 is going to have a huge say.

This week there is a high chance that two more teams could be receiving their first loss. Week 12 welcomes six games between two ranked opponents, two of which have both teams in the top 10.

First there is No. 9 Michigan State traveling to Columbus to take on the No. 3 and undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes. The biggest thing the Buckeyes and Spartans have had to answer to this season is weakness of schedule. Neither team has gone up against top-notch programs, and the Spartans fell to unranked Nebraska. This game is the end all for either team as the loser will automatically be removed from playoff conversation.

The Buckeyes have the Spartans this week, followed by a trip to the Big House to take on the Michigan Wolverines on Nov. 28. If the Buckeyes close out the regular season undefeated and then add a win against the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big 10 championship, Ohio State has every right to be in the top four. If Michigan State wins out, a controversial loss to the Cornhuskers would almost definitely have to be overlooked to send the Spartans to the playoffs.

No. 10 Baylor is on the road at Boone Pickens Stadium, where both teams need a win to remain in the top 10. Oklahoma State comes into the game at No. 6 and is the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12. Even if the Cowboys win, they have a season closer at home against state rival No. 7 Oklahoma on Nov. 28. Like OSU, Baylor would need to win out to potentially make the playoffs. If Baylor loses to the Cowboys, it would be the Bears’ second straight loss; but if they win, they end their season on the road at TCU.

The Big 12 has been the talk of the town for the last two weeks and it will continue for the next two weeks. An extremely backlogged schedule created this mess or in a way “blessing” for the college football playoff committee. No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 18 TCU are also in “do-or-die” mode in Week 12 with the loser out of the top four guaranteed. A TCU loss and potential drop out of the top 25 would devalue the entire Big 12 conference.

No. 15 LSU and No. 22 Ole Miss fight to stay in the top 25. No. 24 University of Southern California needs a win against No. 23 Oregon to win the Pac-12 South. The Ducks need a win, and a Stanford loss, to win the North.

No. 20 Northwestern travels to No. 25 Wisconsin in a fight to stay in bowl contention — but in all reality their outcome matters more to No. 5 Iowa than anyone else. The Hawkeyes’ resume depends on how both of these teams finish the season.

QUESTIONABLE RANKINGS

Every week the committee leaves college football fans confused and with way too many questions floating around in their heads. This week is no different.

Clemson is undefeated and has proved itself with wins over Notre Dame and Florida State but does the SEC team truly deserve the No. 1 spot? Sure a spot in the top four, but No. 1?

No. 2 Alabama and the SEC excel where the Big 10 falls short, strength of schedule. The Crimson Tide worked its way into that top spot with a win over LSU, but with the Tigers falling two times in a row does that win still hold that much weight? Also, who can forget Alabama’s loss to current No. 22 Ole Miss? Heads up: after their loss to Arkansas, the Rebels dropped out of the top 25. They’re only back in because they had a bye in Week 11.

Speaking of Ole Miss, how did they manage a jump in the rankings after a bye week while TCU made a drop following a win over Kansas? The Jayhawks have been considered the worst power five football team, with only Oregon State being mentioned in the same sentence, but a win is a win and a bye is a bye. TCU dropped three spots.

Perhaps the biggest question following this weeks ranking is No. 13 Utah being ranked one spot behind No. 12 Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a Week 11 win over unranked Indiana, but the game went into double overtime and could have easily went either way. Michigan didn’t prove itself in any spectacular way. In fact putting themselves in the double overtime position with an unranked opponent is pretty equivalent to a loss.

Like the Wolverines, the Utes also found themselves in a double overtime situation against an unranked team in Week 11, but Utah lost. The difference is Utah lost to previously ranked Arizona, but Michigan beat never ranked Indiana.

Finally, how does Baylor remain in the top 10 after a loss to Oklahoma when TCU dropped nine spots after losing to Oklahoma State? The Horned Frogs lost to the Cowboys by 20 points whereas the Bears lost to the Sooners by 10. That’s a 10-point difference, but the bigger loss came by an undefeated opponent.

Plenty of Football Left

Tuesday night the first college football rankings by the College Football Playoff (CFP) selection committee were released. I had been anxiously awaiting these rankings for weeks, but as the day got closer and closer I lost interest.

This season has been a weird one. By week 10 in 2014 there were only three undefeated teams left in all of the NCAA, in 2015 we have 11. What are we supposed to do with 11 undefeated teams?

Now I know by the end of the season there is no way there will still be 11. Considering how many of them play each other in an extremely backlogged season, it is absolutely impossible for there to be 11 come December 1. And for that very reason, I knew that these rankings in the end would turn out to be meaningless.

If the CFP was this weekend, the selection committee has Clemson No. 1, LSU No. 2, Ohio State No. 3 and Alabama No. 4 playing for the national title. While I don’t 100 percent disagree with the committee considering how strange of a season it’s been, I can’t help but question one loss Alabama’s spot especially when eight undefeated teams fall lower in the rankings. But the Roll Tide will have a chance to defend the committees choice in placing them fourth and those undefeated teams lower in the rankings will have a chance to work their way up as well.

There is still plenty of football left to be played. Plenty of big games to make sure you are in front of a TV for. And plenty of potential upsets are on the horizon.

First up are No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Alabama. The Roll Tide will look to defend their No. 4 ranking and knock the Tigers out of contention when the two square up Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Second we have Clemson, the ACC’s only chance to enter the ring, but a game against Florida State on Nov. 7 at home could jeopardize that. The remainder of the Tigers’ season is pretty uneventful.

Next we have No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the undefeated Michigan State Spartans on Oct. 21 in Columbus and then they close out the season against the Michigan Wolverines at the Big House. If Ohio State remains the only undefeated team in the Big Ten then the defending National Champions definitely deserve a bid. But if they don’t will the Big Ten still have a representative?

If MSU beats the Buckeyes and then goes on to beat No. 9 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship I’d count the Spartans in, but if they’re what some are calling “miracle” wins like they had against Michigan, the Spartans may still find themselves on the outside looking in. Michigan and Iowa have a much harder path to the CFP.

Currently the Big 12 finds itself in the same position they did last year, right on the cusp. Undefeated Baylor ranks in at No. 6, undefeated TCU at No. 8, undefeated Oklahoma State at No. 14 and 7-1 Oklahoma is No. 15. Crazy thing is all of these teams have yet to play each other.

Saturday Nov. 7, TCU visits Oklahoma State. On Nov. 14, Oklahoma travels to Baylor. TCU takes on Oklahoma and Baylor takes on Oklahoma State all in Oklahoma on Nov. 21. And in the final week of the season, the Bears are on the road to the Horned Frogs and the Sooners are at the Cowboys. If one of these teams comes out undefeated, a huge “if,” the Big 12 may finally see themselves in the top four.

I don’t know about you but I am definitely ready for November. Bring on the football!