ONE-LOSS SEC CHAMP VS. UNDEFEATED OHIO STATE: WHO WINS?
Suppose, for the moment, that someone beats mighty Alabama – either this week or next. After pondering the psychic toll on Harvey Updyke, Mike Slive and Gary Danielson, consider what it could do for the team that takes down the Crimson Tide.
Suppose that after vanquishing the Tide, Auburn or Missouri goes on to finish the season 12-1 and stands as an improbable but undeniable Southeastern Conference champion.
Is that enough to earn the SEC – kingpin of college football the previous seven years – a shot at an eighth straight national title? Or does it open the door for the beaten-down masses of the Big Ten? Does it lift Ohio State into the BCS title game, thus forcing Buckeyes fans to give away their comfortable, well-worn persecution complexes to charity? (That’s presuming the Buckeyes beat both Michigan and Michigan State in the next two weeks. Which seems like a solid presumption at this point.)
If that scenario plays out, know this much: there will be absolute apoplexy from whichever party is left out of the BCS championship game. Buckeyes fans tired of having their schedule slammed and living in persistent paranoia about who may be next to jump them in the BCS standings will lose it. Entitled and arrogant SEC fans will go ballistic at the very thought of a title game without their champion, citing the landslide of recent history.
If a one-loss team hurdles Ohio State, the school and its Big Ten brethren will have only themselves to blame. The league has been at a notoriously low ebb the past two seasons and has not given the Buckeyes any quality competition. But beyond that is the institutional resistance to a playoff.
If commissioner Jim Delany, Ohio State president Gordon Gee, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman and former Penn State president Graham Spanier hadn’t clung to the BCS, we would have had a playoff before now. They were among the last holdouts to an expanded postseason, dragged kicking and screaming out of the 1970s.
[Watch: Week 14 picks to win (Friday)]
And if a four-team playoff were in effect in 2013, the Buckeyes would be a mortal lock. As it stands now, they’re the third wheel at a two-team party and need some help. And even if they get help in the form of an upset of the two-time defending champions, the team pulling the upset could complicate things considerably.
But let’s move on to the complication itself. In the event that Alabama is beaten, which of the following most deserves to play Florida State (a presumptive 13-0) for the national title?
Auburn (1). Selling points: The biggest and most obvious would be beating ‘Bama. But victories over then-No. 7 Texas A&M in College Station and over then-ranked Mississippi and Georgia help, too. The dismissed season-opening victory against Washington State looks better now, with the Cougars 6-5 and ranked No. 30 by Sagarin. (The real Sagarin, not the nonsensical version the BCS uses). Tigers are 4-1 against the current Sagarin top 30 and would be 6-1 with victories over Alabama and either Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC championship game. Drawbacks: That two-touchdown loss to LSU does indeed count, and that wasn’t a game Auburn was ever in – it trailed 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-0 early in the second. The victory against Georgia came on a certifiable fluke, the tipped-ball Hail Mary bomb in the final minute. Five wins by eight points or less indicate that the Tigers have been far from dominant.
They are undefeated on the road for the first time in 50 years, with every win coming by at least 14 points. Record against the Sagarin top 30 would be 4-1. Drawbacks: That loss does indeed count, too. And it came at home. Mizzou benefits from being in a less-than-vintage SEC East that features three bad teams (Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky) and one injury-riddled team (Georgia).Missouri (2). Selling points: Like Auburn, the biggest and most obvious would be beating ‘Bama. And the rest of the résumé would look similar to Auburn’s as well: wins over Texas A&M, Mississippi and Georgia. Mizzou has superior margins of victory to Auburn’s on the books against the Rebels (14 points to eight) and Bulldogs (15 points to five), and play the Aggies on Saturday. The Tigers’ loss was by three points in double overtime to a team (South Carolina) currently in the BCS top ten.
Ohio State (3). Selling points: Being undefeated has to count for something, right? Especially when the competition cannot say the same thing. The Buckeyes will have beaten two quality teams in Wisconsin (No. 4 Sagarin) and Michigan State (No. 15). And it’s not their fault the way the rest of the conference fell apart. The last four victories all have been no-doubt dominant, too. Drawbacks: Even at 13-0, Ohio State would be just 2-0 against the Sagarin top 30, a much softer slate than either SEC school has faced. Those dominant last four wins have come against teams ranked 58th (Indiana), 63rd (Penn State), 73rd (Illinois) and 157th (Purdue). In addition to a weaker conference schedule, the Buckeyes played a weaker non-conference slate, too, with an average Sagarin rating of 121.3 to Missouri’s 99.8 and Auburn’s 109.8.
[Watch: Week 14 picks to win (Saturday)]
Deduction: A victory over Alabama would significantly outweigh anything Ohio State has done, as would the overall body of quality wins for both Auburn and Missouri. Is that enough to cancel out a loss? Yes. The difference in schedule strength would be significant. And history says an SEC team is perfectly capable of beating a team with a better record from another conference (see: 12-1 Florida over 12-0 Ohio State in 2006; 11-2 LSU over 11-1 Ohio State in 2007; 12-1 Alabama over 12-0 Notre Dame in 2012). At least the Buckeyes fans could keep their persecution complexes for another year.
RANKING THE RIVALRY GAMES
Almost every year, this is the best weekend of the season. There is less working, less studying, more merriment and more interesting football. Championships are on the line and bitter rivalries are everywhere. Specific to this season, The Dash ranks the nine most intriguing rivalry games of the week:
Alabama-Auburn (4). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 5. They’ve never met with both ranked in the top four. And every possible title is in play: SEC West, SEC overall, national. In a rivalry that has seen plenty of important showdowns, this one may be the biggest. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 5. The most all-consuming (and often toxic) rivalry in America. All-time series: Alabama leads 42-34-1 and has won two in a row. Dash pick: Alabama 27, Auburn 13. Interested to see what Gus Malzahn came up with in the bye week, but unless he thoroughly revamped the passing game, it won’t be enough. Auburn is too one-dimensional offensively to dent the ‘Bama defense.
South Carolina-Clemson (5). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 4. Both are in the BCS top ten, and both hold out hope of playing in a BCS bowl. But there are no national title or conference championship implications here. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 4. As both programs have risen under Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier, so has the fan crossfire. One look at all the tailgating Clemson fans watching Tennessee upset South Carolina before their team played Florida State back in October showed the level of preoccupation both sides have with the other. All-time series: Clemson leads 65-41-4, but South Carolina has won the last four, all by double digits. Dash pick: South Carolina 24, Clemson 23. This will be the most physical team the Tigers have seen since the Seminoles, and we all know how that turned out. If the game comes down to which senior quarterback can make one more big play (or one fewer mistake) than the other, The Dash likes Connor Shaw a little more than Tajh Boyd.
Ohio State-Michigan (6). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 4. Must-win for the Buckeyes to remain in the BCS title game chase. But they’ve already wrapped up the Big Ten Leaders Division and the Wolverines are playing for pride only. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 4. This is normally a 5 every year, but The Dash has heard a lot of dread from Michigan fans about this one, which is not the sign of a vibrant rivalry game. All-time series: Michigan leads 58-45-6, but has won just one of the last nine. Dash pick: Ohio State 38, Michigan 17. This could be the Wolverines’ worst home loss to the Buckeyes since a 30-point beating in 1961. Michigan is a shockingly bad team and Ohio State will be heavily motivated to keep the foot on the gas for 60 minutes. The question is what a blowout loss would do to Brady Hoke’s job security; a 7-6 third season was enough to get Rich Rodriguez fired in 2010.
Florida State-Florida (7). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 4. Seminoles must win (and assuredly will) to keep hold of their BCS title spot. Gators coach Will Muschamp could desperately use a decent showing in order to assure himself a fourth season as the head coach in Gainesville. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 3.5. The Florida fans who show up to take their whipping will undoubtedly try to make 'Noles quarterback Jameis Winston as uncomfortable as possible in light of the sexual assault accusation hanging over his head. FSU fan smugness will be at an all-time high. All-time series: Florida leads 34-21-2. The visiting team has won the last two. Dash pick: Florida State 35, Florida 6. Muschamp said Monday, “I just don’t feel like we’re that far off right now.” Yes, they are.
Duke-North Carolina (8). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 4. For a non-basketball game between these two, this is an all-time high. Blue Devils must win to capture a wildly improbable ACC Coastal Division title. If the Tar Heels win all hell breaks loose, with a five-way tie for the Division title possible. The most realistic tiebreaker scenarios would place Virginia Tech in the title game as the Coastal representative. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 2. They save the heat for hoops in this matchup. All-time series: North Carolina leads, 56-36-5. Duke won last year to snap an eight-year losing streak, and has won just two of the last 23 meetings. Dash pick: North Carolina 45, Duke 42. After a 1-5 start, the Tar Heels have won five straight. There is a reason they’re favored by 5 ½ points over a 9-2 team.
UCLA-USC (10). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 3. Both teams are pretty good, which helps. But the Pac-12 South title is wrapped up, and neither of these teams won it. Playing for city supremacy, and to see whether Ed Orgeron can add another victory to his Hire Me campaign portfolio. Heat: 3. Jim Mora’s presence has given Trojans fans someone to actively dislike for the first time since the Neuheisel days. But without Lane Kiffin, there is no equal and opposite target for Bruin backers. All-time series: USC leads, 44-29-7. But Mora became an instant hero with UCLA fans by routing the Trojans last year in his first shot at them. Dash pick: USC 27, UCLA 25. In a battle of late-season revelations, Orgeron Magic outdoes Myles Jack Mania.
Mississippi-Mississippi State (11). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 2.5. Bulldogs need it for bowl eligibility, and coach Dan Mullen needs it so he can have his first quality win since 2010. Rebels are shooting for their first eight-win season since 2009, when they still liked Houston Nutt. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 3.5. The fan bases hate each other. Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt explained the situation to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “To me it doesn’t matter what our records are going into the game. This is a game we can’t lose. We’re the flagship university and we have to keep it that way.” All-time series: Ole Miss leads 61-42-6. Mullen is 3-2 against the Rebels and Freeze is 1-0 against the Bulldogs. Dash pick: Mississippi 23, Mississippi State 17. Bulldogs are battered and struggling at quarterback, and this is a bad week for that.
Washington State-Washington (12). Stakes, on a scale of 1-5: 3. For the first time since 2002, both teams come into the game bowl-eligible. Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian and his job security could use a win to get off the seven-victory plateau he’s been on for three straight seasons. Heat, on a scale of 1-5: 2.5. The longer Mike Leach is in Pullman and the better the Cougars get, the feistier this rivalry should be. He brings it out in the opposition, and in himself. All-time series: Washington leads 67-32-6, but the Cougars pulled the upset last year on the Paloose. Dash pick: Washington State 41, Washington 37. Make it a third impressive road victory for the Cougars in 2013. And get Sarkisian a good set of earplugs for when he walks off the field.
And The Dash offers nine more rivalry games you are free to ignore:
Oregon State-Oregon (13). Both sides seem to be sulking into this one, causing Oregonian columnist John Canzano to advocate that fans burn their tickets and go Christmas shopping instead of bother to attend. The Beavers, who used to get better as the year goes along, are on a four-game losing streak and gave up 69 points to Washington on Saturday. The Ducks, who were talking national title at the beginning of November, have lost two of their last three and mailed in a dismal performance at Arizona. All-time series: Oregon leads, 60-46-10. The Ducks have won five straight, four of them convincingly. Dash pick: Oregon 47, Oregon State 31. Who wants it more? Or, alternatively, who doesn’t want it less?
Georgia-Georgia Tech (14). The final indignity in a season full of them for the Bulldogs came Saturday night, when quarterback Aaron Murray became the latest victim of the ACL Reaper who has scythed his way through the Georgia offense. Both teams are 7-4, which beats the low ebb of 2010 – when Tech was 6-5 and Georgia was 5-6 – but not by a lot. Dash pick: Georgia Tech 28, Georgia 24.
Arkansas-LSU (15). The absolute misery of the Razorbacks sucks the life out of the battle for the Golden Boot. Arkansas hasn’t won since mid-September and hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since late September. Hogs will struggle to keep it as close as it was last year, a 20-13 LSU victory. Dash pick: LSU 30, Arkansas 13.
Northwestern-Illinois (16). Land of Lincoln is the Land of Bad Football. Between them they have one Big Ten victory – and that was over Purdue, by four points, which kind of doesn’t count. Dash pick: Northwestern 28, Illinois 21. Wildcats have found remarkable ways to lose, but they'll finally find a way to win.
Kansas State-Kansas (17). This game is usually forgettable, and this year is no different. On the bright side, the Wildcats rallied late in the season to gain bowl eligibility. And the Jayhawks won a league game. So there’s that. Dash pick: Kansas State 32, Kansas 28.
Virginia Tech-Virginia (18). Dismal season in the commonwealth. Hokies have four losses this year and 10 over the past two, their most in a two-year period since 1991-92. Virginia needs an upset to avoid its first winless ACC season since 1981. Dash pick: Virginia Tech 39, Virginia 17. Hokies can back into an ACC title beatdown from Florida State if a few things break right.
Purdue-Indiana (19). Resistible force meets movable object. Boilermakers team that has scored a total of 58 points in Big Ten play faces a Hoosiers team that has allowed 35 or more points in nine of 11 games. Dash pick: Indiana 31, Purdue 21. Then bring on basketball season. Again.
Tennessee-Kentucky (20). What used to be a mismatch of a power program vs. a pushover program has now become a battle of two pushovers. Between them, the Volunteers and Wildcats have one SEC victory – same as last year, when both fired their coaches. At least there will be a second in 2013. Dash pick: Tennessee 23, Kentucky 14. Volunteers may be completing their fourth straight losing season for the first time since 1903-06, but they go out the usual way – with a victory over the 'Cats.
South Florida-Central Florida (21). Before the season, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was touting this as the new/old/reformatted league’s big blooming rivalry. The Knights lived up to their end of it, going 9-1 to this point. The Bulls have bombed in their first year under Willie Taggart, going 2-8. Dash pick: UCF 38, USF 3. Looks like it will be a while before this rivalry takes root.
Dashette Priyanka Chopra (22) is pretty much unrivaled.
FIRE THE COACH? BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Fifteen FBS schools forced a coaching change in search of something better in 2013. Taken as a whole, the results have not been pretty near the end of year one with a new regime. After all the off-season optimism, most of those 15 schools are dealing with either sobering pragmatism or renewed pessimism. The Dash keeps score:
Three that paid immediate dividends:
Auburn. Last year under Gene Chizik: 3-9 overall, 0-8 in the SEC. This year under Gus Malzahn: 10-1 overall, 6-1 in the SEC. The rapid turnaround bolsters the belief that Chizik might indeed be the worst coach to ever win a national title, and that Malzahn is excellent. Home run.
Boston College (23). Last year under Frank Spaziani: 2-10 overall, 1-7 in the ACC. This year under Steve Addazio: 7-4 overall, 5-3 in the ACC. Addazio inherited a veteran team, which helped, but his best move was turning part-time running back Andre Williams into a full-time powerhouse. Williams leads the nation in rushing with 2,073 yards, including five games of 200 or more.
Colorado (24). Last year under Jon Embree: 1-11, 1-8 in the Pac-12. This year under Mike MacIntyre: 4-7 overall, 1-7 in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes are still a long, long way from good. But they are much more competitive than the two seasons under Embree. They’re moving in the right direction.
Five that are treading water:
Kentucky (25). Last year under Joker Phillips: 2-10 overall, 0-8 in the SEC. This year under Mark Stoops: 2-9 overall, 0-7 in the SEC. New regime came in selling a free-wheeling aerial attack, but the Wildcats are 97th nationally in passing yards per game. Help is on the way in the form of a promising recruiting class, and five of those high-school players plan to enroll in January.
Tennessee (26). Last year under Derek Dooley: 5-7 overall, 1-7 in the SEC. This year under Butch Jones: 4-7 overall, 1-6 in the SEC. Wheels have fallen off late in the year, with injuries at quarterback leaving the Volunteers without a touchdown pass (or a victory) since Oct. 19. The upset of South Carolina will keep the fan base believing through the offseason.
Southern Mississippi (27). Last year under Ellis Johnson: 0-12, 0-8 in C-USA. This year under Todd Monken: 0-11, 0-7 in C-USA. After the most shocking one-year plummet ever, from 12-2 in 2011, it has gotten no better this season. If anything, maybe it is a little worse. USM has gone from four losses by eight points or fewer in ’12 to two so far in ’13.
UTEP (28). Last year under Mike Price: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in C-USA. This year under Sean Kugler: 2-9 overall, 1-6 in C-USA. What’s another losing season at UTEP, which had seven in a row under Price after his initial promising start? But the losses have gotten progressively more lopsided as the season has gone along, which was not the case last year in a more competitive league.
Idaho (29). Last year under Robb Akey and interim Jason Gesser: 1-11. This year under Paul Petrino: 1-10. The Dash watched the Vandals give up 80 in person Saturday to Florida State, but there is reason to believe better days are coming. Petrino has about two quality players right now; if the talent improves, he will coach them to something better than an endless succession of blowouts.
Seven that have backed up even more:
Arkansas (30). Last year under John L. Smith: 4-8 overall, 2-6 in the SEC. This year under Bret Bielema: 3-8 overall, 0-7 in the SEC. They never thought it could get worse than under Smith, a stopgap interim coach, but it has in the first year under the well-compensated former Wisconsin coach. To be fair, the schedule has been brutal – and this looks like another instance where Bobby Petrino didn’t have the cupboard fully stocked for long-term success. But more was expected than the first winless SEC season in school history.
South Florida (31). Last year under Skip Holtz: 3-9 overall, 1-6 in the Big East. This year under Willie Taggart: 2-8 overall, 2-4 in the AAC. In the final year under Holtz there were multiple near-misses – nice wins that evaporated late. Under Taggart, the Bulls really haven’t been that close to turning the corner. Every loss has been by double digits, and they’ve scored a mind-boggling nine offensive touchdowns.
North Carolina State (32). Last year under Tom O’Brien: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the ACC. This year under Dave Doeren: 3-8 overall, 0-7 in the ACC. With lots of rebuilding to do on the depth chart, this season figured to be a step back for the Wolfpack. It’s turned into a long jump in reverse. Six of NCSU’s seven ACC losses have been by two touchdowns or more.
Purdue (33). Last year under Danny Hope: 6-7 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten. This year under Darrell Hazell: 1-10 overall, 0-7 in the Big Ten. Boilermakers are 60 minutes away from their first winless league record in 20 years. Hazell inherited a depleted offensive squad and it shows, with Purdue 121st nationally out of 123 teams in total offense. This still feels like a good hire, but it will take time to show it.
California (34). Last year under Jeff Tedford: 3-9 overall, 2-7 in the Pac-12. This year under Sonny Dykes: 1-11 overall, 0-9 in the Pac-12. It hasn’t helped that the league has been loaded. But this has been an epically bad year for the Golden Bears, who haven’t come close in a league game – not even against Colorado. Dykes bit the bullet early, going with a true freshman quarterback and lots of other youth. We’ll see if it pays off in another couple of years.
Florida International (35). Last year under Mario Cristobal: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in the Sun Belt. This year under Ron Turner: 1-10 overall, 1-6 in C-USA. One of the strangest administrative decisions in recent memory was trap-dooring Cristobal just a season removed from consecutive winning records. It got even stranger when FIU hired Turner, a retread who was fired from Illinois earlier this century. The result has been what you’d expect: 10 losses, nine of them blowouts, the lone victory by a point over winless Southern Mississippi.
Western Michigan (36). Last year under Bill Cubit: 4-8, 2-6 in the MAC. This year under P.J. Fleck: 1-10, 1-6 in the MAC. A rebuilt offensive line and iffy quarterbacks meant this season was going to be a chore for the Broncos, and it has lived down to expectations. Western Michigan has at least been competitive the last three weeks, but could be heading for a woodshed whipping against Northern Illinois on Tuesday night.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Mike Gundy (37). Has Oklahoma State in position to win two Big 12 championships in the last three years. Not bad for a school that only has one other Big Eight/Big 12 title in its history, that being a shared one in 1976. Jimmy Johnson couldn’t do it once, but Gundy will likely do it twice. Of course, he’s also capable of being a petulant, power-tripping jerk. Gundy denied quarterback Clint Chelf an invitation to be on the ESPN GameDay set Saturday night after the beatdown of Baylor, sending himself out instead. Gundy has made no explanation of his media ban on Chelf, which is typical – he’s an imperious, bully of a head coach. But he is also a winner.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder (38), who after giving up 80 points in three quarters against North Carolina requested a reduction of fourth-quarter playing time from 15 minutes to 10. (Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora accepted). The Monarchs are transitioning to FBS and will play in Conference USA. Which means it’s time to play big-boy football: 60 minutes, no shortcuts, no wimping out. Wilder has built the ODU program on a high-scoring offense; might be time to invest in some defense next.
When thirsty in Tallahassee, The Dash recommends a visit to Fermentation Lounge (39). Cool vibe, a nice front patio, removed from the campus havoc and blessed with an excellent rotating draft beer list. Have a Swamphead StumpKnocker Pale Ale (40) – even if it’s brewed in the enemy territory of Gainesville – and thank The Dash later.
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