Just Three Games Remain

After three weeks of March Madness, I am still trying to find the words other than completely unpredictable and upset-laden to describe the tournament, let alone the 2016 season.

Week three brought two more upsets to the season. Three of four No. 1 seeds were eliminated, including the overall No. 1 and top candidate to win it all, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Villanova is finally living up to the hype with the win that sent the Jayhawks packing. After struggling the last two years in tournament appearances, the Wildcats have finally proved that they are worthy to be in conversation with the top dogs.

Even though the Sooners were the No. 2 seed in their region, most people predicted them to come out on top over No. 1 Oregon. With the best college basketball player on their roster, Buddy Hield, some believe there is no stopping them.

University of North Carolina is the sole No. 1 seed remaining. The Tar Heels were the closest to a perfect season in 2016, but ended on a 32-6 record. Multiple factors pointed to a potential early sendoff for UNC, but it proved the doubters wrong and is now the favorite to win it all.

The last team in the final four is Syracuse, who after an early season ban barely made the tournament. In no way can the Orange be named this year’s Cinderella, but it is this year’s biggest shocker. Syracuse is only the fourth double seeded team to ever make the Final Four and the only 10th seed to ever make the Final Four.

SOUTH SEMIFINAL: VILLANOVA

I am going to go against the grain with the majority on this matchup. Despite a regular-season loss to Oklahoma by 23 on Dec. 7, 2015, I think the Wildcats have more going for them than the Sooners do.

Villanova is fourth in the nation in 2-point percentage and second in free-throw percentage. The Wildcats are great at forcing turnovers while not giving much up themselves, and they move the ball with ease, averaging an assist on 60 percent of field goals made.

The difference maker in their first matchup was 3 pointers, Villanova was 4-32, and Oklahoma was 14-26. If Villanova can beat Oklahoma in all other areas like it should, shots from beyond the arc aren’t important.

EAST SEMIFINAL: NORTH CAROLINA

I’m taking the current favorites on the East side of the bracket. The Atlantic Coast Conference champion North Carolina was the nation’s preseason No. 1 and it has the chance to end like it started. They’ve beaten every tournament opponent thrown their way by a minimum of 14 points, and I don’t see why they can’t keep that going.

The Tar Heels take the advantage in the paint and on the offensive glass with a deep front court. UNC swept Syracuse in the regular season by breaking the Orange’s 2-3 zone and doing what it does best, feeding the post, dominating the glass and drawing fouls. There is no reason another win shouldn’t be in the books.

The one thing UNC needs to avoid is settling for the 3. In their first two games against Syracuse, the Tar Heels shot for a combined 9 of 41 from beyond the arc. It’s hard to knock down those shots against the No. 13 perimeter defense.

NATIONAL CHAMPION: NORTH CAROLINA

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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.

Should Utah be in the top 4?

If college football playoffs were this weekend, there would be much debate. The AP Poll has Ohio State, Michigan State, Ole Miss and TCU. The Coaches Poll has Ohio State, Michigan State, TCU and Baylor. The Football Power Rankings chose Ohio State, Ole Miss, Michigan State and UCLA.

In all reality, how you feel the rankings should be going into Week Five is entirely dependent on what you think of Oregon in 2015. The biggest upset of the season so far was the 62-20 Utah win over the Ducks in Eugene. This game dropped Oregon from the top 25 for the first time in over four years, and now the Utes boast the best resume of the season.

This is the Ducks’ worst season opening in over a decade. Their two losses come from the current No. 2 Michigan State (31-28) and Utah. Their only wins came against “eh” teams — Eastern Washington (61-42) and Georgia State (61-28) — and the Ducks’ defense doesn’t leave anyone feeling very comfortable. This week Oregon heads to Boulder to take on Colorado, so it will take another few weeks to truly evaluate this Oregon team.

With the Utes’ upset over Oregon, some think they should be given a higher ranking than 10. Michigan State owes its No. 2 rank to a close win against the Ducks in East Lansing. The Spartans are 4-0 right now, but their other three wins come from “OK” teams and none were blowouts like they should have been.

Utah’s other big win of the season was against Michigan, who has broken the top 25 this week for the first time since 2013. Utah’s 24-17 win over the Wolverines didn’t seem like much until the Wolverines beat Oregon State and BYU, but even that’s not exactly impressive.

BYU’s most impressive game this season would be its 24-23 loss to UCLA despite their wins, by Hail Mary’s, against Nebraska and Boise State. UCLA is either in people’s top fours or just outside of it thanks to their 56-30 win over Arizona. The win wasn’t notable besides the fact that the Bruins were able to hold the Bears, who have a strong offensive game, to 20 points at home. UCLA’s win will look better if Arizona can take down Stanford on Saturday.

Another game outcome affecting rankings is the Ole Miss 43-37 win over Alabama, which was not great. The Roll Tide played sloppy, both teams had major turnovers and Bama had more yards despite the Rebel win. If Nick Saban and his team fall in Georgia this weekend, do the Rebels deserve to be in the top four either? Maybe a win against Florida on Saturday will help their case.

No. 1 seed Ohio State hasn’t been proving itself of that top spot. The Buckeyes’ only significant win was against Virginia Tech (42-24), but now that Virginia Tech lost to East Carolina, we are stuck wondering if they are only No. 1 because they were the 2014 champions. The Buckeyes head to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers on Saturday.

Baylor and TCU round out the teams in current playoff spots. TCU needed that tipped-pass miracle to avoid an upset by Texas Tech, 55-52. TCU has been challenged in every one of its games and its offense despite returning most of its players is not where it was last year.

Baylor’s first true match up of the season comes against the Texas Tech team that almost upset TCU. The Bears’ only other wins were over SMU, Rice and Lamar.

Looks like it will be another few weeks before I start to feel confident with my top-four choices and even then I will probably disagree when the CFP committee releases its first rankings on Nov. 3.