Pints and Picks: Championship Week—empty promises or empty stadiums (or both?)

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Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and what to drink while doing it. This week: #championshipweek:

pridgenIMe again Kyle.

It’s been 14 weeks since we started this mess. Back in the day, I had ideas. I thought UCLA would run the table (they looked unstoppable till Rosen started playing Johnny Be Good in Westwood and it all came to a screeching halt Oct. 3 vs. ASU.) I thought Utah might be the next big thing out of the (Pac-12) South and a 9-3 finish, though nothing to hang their feather-garnished heads about, was still about two games on the side of underachieving. I had low expectations for the Ducks and they proved me right first against Michigan State, then again with a historic loss at home to Utah and finally knotting up their record at 3-3 with a double-OT loss to Wazzu….What happened next? The winged ones got their braces off, ordered up some Proactiv and magically became the smoking hottest the team in FCS for the remaining six weeks of the season.

Clemson was my Ivan Drago spirit animal. Every time I got them to the mat, they popped back up, wiped their nose and said they will break me. After their lackluster show rivalry week against the Gamecocks, I still have faith in *gasp* North Carolina…but more than this, I am perplexed that NOBODY has called the ACC for what it is this season on the gridiron, a handgun-toting, protected swampland, Christian strip club-centric version of the Mountain West with slightly less aggressive out-of-conference scheduling.

Notre Dame finally folded on the West Coast in a final-second loss even the Irish faithful couldn’t even stomach with a chaser of Bushmills. Because of the schedule they have to put together for themselves, ND fans will be at home New Year’s Day jumping into the second act of Rudy on CMT and thinking about what could have been. There is hope. They get Kaizer the King back next year, I hope the shamrocks so don’t tip out all of their Upland Dragonfly IPA in despair.

Oh what a beautiful morning it is for Oklahoma. Boomer is rolling and I’m pretty sure the Blade Runner Vagina Trophy® should be dropped off at All-American Engraving in your hometown’s half-boarded up downtown and etched with their name this week. Texas fans meanwhile can dine out on the Red River rivalry this offseason which is almost as good as a McConaughey Oscar win.

Stanford held the ball longer than any team in the NCAA, but may well prove to be the inferior scorer against an energized 8-4 USC Trojan squad who are a different, more formidable animal than anyone could have imagined six weeks ago. LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke rightfully summed up my sentiments of the season that was upon the hire of interim HC Clay Helton this week: “How to quantify the strength of Helton’s impact? It seems like it was last year, not less than two months ago, when Sarkisian was fired. It seems like it has been several seasons, not several games, since Helton has changed the Trojan culture.”

So look for a 9-4 Pac-12 team to take the conference championship and storm into Arroyo Seco New Year’s Day, lending further credence to the notion that the four-team playoff is excluding a half-dozen schools from the left coast who did nothing but play like possessed Dew-infused gamers week after week after week canceling each other like bad checks to a dry cleaner.

On the homefront Kyle, in spite of a few hiccups, we both wrap the regular season hovering around .600. Not bad for a year in college football that threw more curves than Yordano Ventura with a 1-2 count. The Vegas drones are circling our little snack shack.

…So, let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.

maginIAJ,

I can’t believe we’re already here. I’ve been so enthralled with the playoff chase for the last four weeks that I never really considered the finish line. I agree that we do need to expand this thing–there are, as you pointed out, one and even two-loss teams with legitimate credentials for inclusion–but here in year two I think I can confidently say that we’ve improved upon the BCS system and whatever backroom byzantine nonsense preceded it.

This season will stand out in my memory for three reasons:

The SEC proved mortal. Jameis Winston may have tossed the garlic on that vampire, but the league is driving the stake into its heart. In a bid to catch Saban and the Tide the SEC cast off one of its strongest coaches–then- Georgia’s, now-Miami’s Mark Richt–and nearly tossed out Les Miles, who, mind you, coached the LSU Tigers to a #2 ranking in the nation less than a month ago. In addition to all this strife, the league just wasn’t very good. The Mississippi schools stalled in the passing lane, Auburn is a mess, Arkansas suffered embarrassing defeats and Florida won an eastern division where the five member schools were a combined 3-10 against the top 25. The myth always persists after the monster ceases to be a threat, which is why nobody is really questioning Alabama’s place in the playoffs with one loss, even though we all probably should.

Texas hit rock bottom. AJ, you mentioned the Horns’ win over Oklahoma as sateing the Texas faithful, but the seven-loss squad can’t play defense and appears to be on an extended walk in the wilderness right now. They gave up 30-plus points six times and 40-plus points thrice with their date against the Baylor Bears still looming. Charlie Strong is 10-14 in two years and it’s probably too quick to pull the cord right now so the program will probably implode at some point next season. But, at least then there’ll be hope and a change. For now the Horns bump along the bottom and it’s a weird place to see a team that was once a national power.

The old guard died. Continuing on the thought from above, 2015 will always be the year for me that the last of the teams still riding success from the 2000s without fundamental changes finally sputtered out. Texas is a wreck, Miami increasingly looks more like a regional threat and less like anything resembling a national power and SC learned you can’t just hire your way out of the hinterlands. For those three programs to all be so down at once–three programs that are the premier teams in the country’s three biggest recruiting hotspots–means that we may have finally hit a reckoning. It’s not enough to have a flashy coach with a flashy system, but you actually have to hire someone who’s willing to put in the sweat equity to build something and the courage to perhaps break with tradition and build something new. Jim Harbaugh with his high energy and recruiting camps across the country; Kirk Ferentz discovering and embracing the other 90 percent of Iowa’s playbook; Jim Mora with his anybody, anywhere scheduling mentality. The current state of things seems to favor the adapters, and the old guard better get with the program.

Alright, AJ, who ya got?

pridgenIKyle,

Thank you for chronicling the demise of the SEC. I always view them in the context of the Pac-12. In years like this where the Pac-12 played human centipede with each other and the middling SEC provides us with a (sorta) winner, the knee-jerk is the SEC is (again) strong as ever and the West coast (again) got weaker. Even those with a high tolerance for the three-and-out conference of record on the eastern seaboard can admit this season there was just something a little off about whatever was going on in the premiere league east of the mighty Miss, the old miss, the old man….Deeep River….

Uh, sorry. I know I went waaaay over my (original) Vacation reference quota this season.

Looking back Kyle, I’m going to end where I started. Because in this season of tumult, there’s only one thing I know for certain: Going with the dogs whether on week one or championship week…is never a bad thing:

USC +4 vs. Stanford (That place near Great America)

Welp, the Pac-12 has one chance to represent in a field of four and that chance is the heretofore left in the hands of Kevin Hogan. Granted, Stanford’s quarterback led the Cardinal in an improbable 33-second drill to close out one time shoo-in Notre Dame. Of course, I went on record here and here that Stanford would be the Jennifer Aniston to the Irish’s Leprechaun. And, well, it happened.

Similarly USC the second time around is a team out of turmoil (though they went ahead and didn’t hire Will Ferrell as coach as I suggested). Though Stanford technically has the home-field advantage in that Superman cave of empty VC promises that is the stadium that Goldman Sachs, Santa Clara and thousands of worthless PSL’s built, I’m thinking the way things have gone this season in the Parity-12, (not to mention the way USC has rolled in five of its last six—dropping only one to the league’s best team, Oregon), things will end up in Tommy Trojan’s favor.

USC’s defense is firing, holding cross-town and Pac-12 South rival UCLA to a trio of garbage time touchdowns last week. Should the Cardnial kick another last-second field goal to take down the Trojans, Stanford will likely leapfrog the B1G championship game runner up and then leave it up to Alabama or Clemson to lose (could happen) to clear a place at the grown-ups table.

USC, on the other hand, would upgrade from the Foster Farms Bowl (also hosted in that Silicon Valley menagerie that takes four hours to park at) against a 5-7 Cornhuskers to play in Pasadena. Talk about coach to private jet.

North Carolina +6.5 vs. Clemson

Well, here it is. Last chance to bet against Clemson to lose and be right. As mentioned up top, Dabo totally outdid me this year and every time I picked him to fold (Notre Dame, Florida State—though they both covered—he got up off the mat like Brad Pitt in Snatch.) You go Glen Coco ( I mean Dabo).

Here’s what I know about the ACC:

  1. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure there’s more date rape involving a Gyro complaints filed on these campuses than anywhere else in the world.
  2. I have no idea how good the football teams in this conference are. I think they’re somewhere between San Jose State and Washington State-level good.
  3. Having North Carolina play Clemson only proves that one of them is maybe OK enough to be the other but…is it basketball season yet?

The Tar Heels have won 11 straight since an opening loss to, you guessed it, 3-9 South Carolina (who took it down to the last possession against Clemson) so, I dunno. A NC win maybe proves the Gamecocks should be in the national championship? Wofford, Appalachian State, Louisville, Miami, NC State, Syracuse, Wake Forest…that’s Clemson’s road to the final four. Compare that to, say, San Jose State who had to get by: Air Force, Oregon State, Auburn, San Diego State, BYU, Nevada Boise State…who scheduled tougher?

Should North Carolina win, they played (a-hem) second-tier opponents in North Carolina A&T and Deleware along with your requisite Virginia, Illinois, Wake Forest, Pitt, Duke and Miami which is probably enough for them to leapfrog Ohio State in the CFP rankings, but if the Cardinal win too, the Heels still may be odd-team out. Stanford, after all, had to run a Pac-12 schedule and face Northwestern and Notre Dame out of conference. Imagine that, a top-tier team scheduling actual games they might lose instead of airbrushing the schedule like a Kardashian’s upper lip.

Michigan State -3 vs. Iowa (Indiana)

A non-dog, but it’s Sparty’s time. This will be my real CFP championship Saturday. I love Iowa and their story and the Spartans keep grinding. Big Ten quarterback of the year Connor Cook vs. future Big Ten quarterback of the year, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard. Sparty’s seniors have the opportunity to become the all-time winningest class in school history with a win (42) and even though both schools can do it in the air, they also love smash mouth (<–the band, not the brand of football) and feature ’90s-style versatile fullbacks and crazy-ass d lines. Time of possession, offensive fronts bending not breaking and a little bit of whatever magic that’s returned to the Midwest gridiron the past two seasons will crown not only a league champion, but put the winner in the hole shot for fame and glory and confetti showers and being in the second B1G to steal that trophy from the clutches of the national media’s embrace.

Kyle, if Oklahoma is a shoo-in at this point I’m hoping for: Michigan State, NC State and, hell, let’s round it out with the Buckeyes for the final four.

Und du?

maginIAJ,

Let’s get to it.

Temple @ Houston -7

This has the potential to be the weekend’s best game. Houston (11-1) holds court at TDECU Stadium in the Bayou City, where they’re undefeated, and Temple (10-2) is coming in hoping to win their first league title in 48 years. Houston isn’t great at home against the dspread–just 3-4 this season with close home wins over Cincy and Memphis–but I think program momentum carries the Cougars to cover Saturday. Houston Head Coach Tom Herman just got a major commitment from a relatively small program this week, with a raise to a $3 million annual salary, and the Cougars are playing for a potential spot in the Fiesta Bowl at home. Temple has had problem sustaining momentum this year, losing its undefeated status to Notre Dame in Philly and its spotless AAC record just two weeks later at South Florida after romping against TCU. I look for the Cougars to keep riding the wave.

NIU +13 vs BGSU (Ford Field)

A season of #MACtion, painful second-tier conference commercials featuring people DEFINITELY not going pro in sports and some pretty good football comes to an end in Detroit Friday night. Bowling Green (9-3) has been the class of the league all year–they’re nearly +200 in point differential and average nearly 6.9 yards per play. NIU is a monster in the red zones on offense and defense–they scored TDs on 76 percent of their visits inside the 20 while holding opponents to just 38 percent. It’s a stretch to think the Falcons will run away from the Huskies.

Florida vs Alabama -12 (Georgia Dome)

Florida (10-2) scored 2 points last week in a loss to Florida State. Yes, Jim McElwayne has taken this program light years from its station during the Will Muschamp days, and yes, Florida’s schedule probably isn’t that much worse than Bama’s, but if Jimbo Fisher holds you to two, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide (11-1) is not going to cure what ales you. Especially because there’s some sliver of doubt in the air. Saban is not a dumb guy and he knows that Urban Meyer is going to have a pretty convincing argument about Ohio State’s bona fides being more valuable than Alabama’s. I wouldn’t expect Saban to leave an iota of doubt in the Atlanta air Saturday night.

Kyle

maginILast week: 1 for 3

Overall: 24 for 43

This week:

Florida vs Alabama -12

NIU +13 vs BGSU (Ford Field)

Temple @ Houston -7

AJ

pridgenILast week: 4 for 7

Overall: 26 for 42 (one tie)

USC +4 vs. Stanford

North Carolina +6.5 vs. Clemson

Michigan State -3 vs. Iowa (Indiana)

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