ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 12/30

We’re just a few day’s from the start of ACC conference play this weekend.  Let’s glance at how the 15 teams look, top to bottom, in this week’s power rankings.

1.  Syracuse (12-0, LW: 1)
Syracuse picked up a validating win over the Villanova Wildcats on Saturday in a battle of undefeated teams.  The Orange trailed 25-7 in the first half before winning 78-62 and showing it going to be tough for anyone to compete with this team, particularly in the Carrier Dome.  This week, the Orange host an Eastern Michigan team on Tuesday that was just blown out by Duke before the defending champions of the ACC, Miami, in their first ACC conference game.  Duke was my preseason pick to win the ACC, but I think Syracuse is currently the best and will be very tough to beat.  The Orange remained 2nd in Monday’s AP Poll, and are one of 8 undefeated teams remaining in college basketball.

2.  Duke (10-2, LW: 2)
Duke’s only game over the week of Christmas was Saturday’s 82-59 blowout of Eastern Michigan, as mentioned above.  The game featured very little drama for the Blue Devils, who are now ranked 7th in the AP Poll released today.  Duke will travel about a 45 minute drive west of campus for a New Year’s Eve game listed as “at” Elon, although the game is really at a neutral site in the Greensboro Coliseum, and I’m sure there will be more Blue Devils fans than Phoenix fans in the building.  That will be followed by their first true road game, which is also their first ACC game of the year, when they travel to South Bend to play Notre Dame, who will be playing their first ever ACC game.

3.  Florida State (8-3, LW: 3)
The Seminoles got a Christmas break, taking the entire week off after their upset win over UMass on December 21.  Tonight they host Charleston Southern out of the Big South Conference in their final tune-up before the start of conference play against Virginia on Saturday in Tallahassee.  Before the season I picked the Seminoles to finish 12th in the ACC, due to the loss of some key players from last year, most notably forward Michael Snaer, and a few struggles on the road a year ago.  However, they have proven in their non-conference slate of games they are worthy to be called contenders in this year’s ACC.

4.  Pittsburgh (11-1, LW: 4)
Like the ‘Noles, the Panthers of Pittsburgh took the entire week off as part of a 10-day layoff in between their win over Cal Poly and their game on Tuesday against Albany.  The break is well-deserved after starting the season with 10 straight wins, with the only loss in a 44-43 defensive battle against Cincinnati at the Jimmy V Classic in New York.  That game against the Great Danes is their final non-conference contest before their inaugural ACC campaign begins in Raleigh against an NC State team that is better than I had expected.

5.  North Carolina (9-3, LW: 5)
The Tar Heels hosted Northern Kentucky on Friday, and played poorly at times, although they eventually won 75-60.  The team remains ranked 19th in the AP Poll, on the strength of wins against Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, despite losses to Belmont, UAB, and Texas.  The Heels seem to play to the level of their opponent more than anybody else in the country.  If that’s the case, they will be capable of beating Syracuse or Duke yet still capable of losing to Virginia Tech or Boston College once conference play gets underway.  Before ACC play, North Carolina will host UNC Wilmington on Tuesday, then will begin their conference slate on the road at Wake Forest on Sunday.  The announcement that PJ Hairston will not be reinstated by the NCAA hurts the Heels, but they are also used to playing without him by now.

6.  Virginia (9-3, LW: 7)
The Cavaliers defeated Norfolk State by 10 last Monday for their 9th win of the year, before taking a few days off before playing at Tennessee tonight in a good test for both teams before beginning play in their respective leagues.  While guard Joe Harris isn’t quite having as stellar a season as many had predicted for the Wahoos, he is still an exceptional leader for this team.  They move up after passing Notre Dame (keep reading to see why), and 2 of their 3 losses are certainly understandable, to VCU and Wisconsin.  Their first ACC game is against another top-tier team in the conference, as they travel to Florida State on Saturday.

7.  Notre Dame (9-4, LW: 6)
The Irish of Notre Dame have been an interesting team to watch throughout the season.  At their best, they handled Indiana nicely, and had Ohio State beaten before the Buckeyes’ furious last-minute comeback.  At their worst, the Irish have losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State.  They had one of their bad games yesterday, when the Golden Griffins of Canisius took the Irish to overtime in South Bend, before the Irish were able to escape with a victory.  I’ve barely heard of Canisius and have no clue where it is (I looked it up, it’s in Buffalo, NY), so Notre Dame’s close call against them drops them a spot in these rankings.  The Irish have a few days off over New Year’s before starting conference play, and they will need it to prepare for their first ACC conference game at home against Duke on Saturday.

8.  Maryland (8-5, 1-0 ACC, LW: 9)
The Terrapins beat Tulsa last night, 85-74, getting back on their feet after last week’s loss to Boston University.  NC Central comes to College Park on Tuesday night, and the Terps shouldn’t overlook them, as they are playing on a 48-hour turnaround, and the Eagles have already defeated NC State on the road this season.  Maryland is 1-0 in the ACC after beating Boston College in early December, and will try to improve to 2-0 when Georgia Tech comes to town on Saturday.

9.  NC State (9-3, LW: 8)
The Wolfpack prepared over Christmas for a home matchup with 25th-ranked Missouri, and the Pack led the Tigers for much of the contest before losing at the end, 68-64.  While NC State lost all 5 starters from last year, they returned the valuable TJ Warren, who has converted from 6th man to leader nicely.  In addition, they are getting some excellent play from multiple freshman, and better quantity and quality of minutes from center Jordan Vandenburg of Australia.  UNC Greensboro, who has played well in games with Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, and even beat the Hokies, will be in Raleigh tonight, before the Pack face a stern test to open conference play, hosting Pittsburgh.

10.  Miami (7-5, 0-1 ACC, LW: 11)
The defending champions of the ACC will end a week-long holiday break tonight when they take on Loyola (MD).  It is their first game since beating Atlantic-10 opponent La Salle on December 22.  The Hurricanes won’t play again between tonight and Saturday, and need all the preparation time they can get for an extremely difficult 3-game stretch to start conference play, traveling to Syracuse and North Carolina before hosting Florida State.  It’s been a struggle for the ‘Canes after losing their top 6 players from last year, including 4 overtime games already, winning just 1 of them.  One of those losses was to Virginia Tech in an early December conference contest, which was at home.

11.  Wake Forest (10-3, LW: 10)
Wake Forest’s 10-2 start was much better than the starts they have had over the first 3 years of coach Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure, but 9 of those 12 games were at home, and the other 3 were at a neutral site during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas.  Saturday, they played their first road game of the year when they traveled to Cincinnati to play Xavier.  The game was close for the first 15 minutes, then Xavier abruptly pulled away and the Deacons were never within single digits again, and lost 78-63, resulting in a drop from 10th to 11th in this ranking.  The game must have reminded the Deacon faithful of last year’s winless road record in ACC play, when only 2 of the 9 games were decided by single digits.  The Deacs will end a week of rest over the New Year’s holiday with their first conference game at home against North Carolina on Sunday, which is the start of a tough 3-game stretch to start league play.

12.  Clemson (8-3, LW: 12)
The Tigers are ending an 11-day resting period tonight, when they host VMI at Littlejohn Coliseum.  In their last contest, back on December 19, they lost to Auburn on the road by 2, in a game that Clemson should have won, at least on paper.  Conference play for Clemson starts in Chestnut Hill against a struggling Boston College team.  It is these type of games the Tigers will have to find a way to win if they don’t want to stay in the cellar of the ACC, particularly considering their next 2 contests when they come home from Boston will be with Florida State and Duke.

13.  Georgia Tech (9-4, LW: 13)
The Yellow Jackets beat Charlotte on Sunday, 58-55, on the road.  While the win has some quality to it, particularly since it did come on the road, it was probably closer than coach Brian Gregory and his staff would have liked, considering the same Charlotte team lost by 44 to another ACC opponent when they played Florida State on December 17.  That game was their last non-conference game to prepare, as the Jackets are improved but still young and will likely struggle in this tough league.  Young teams usually struggle on the road, which is where the Jackets start their league schedule, at Maryland and Duke.

14.  Virginia Tech (7-5, 1-0 ACC, LW: 14)
The Hokies lost their 2nd straight contest on Saturday, losing to UNC Greensboro, 55-52.  Coincidentally, it was the 2nd straight game that the Hokies have scored just 52 points, although one loss was by 3 and the other was by 30.  It has been a struggle for 2nd year head coach James Johnson, with the Hokies losing 5 non-conference games, including the aforementioned loss to the Spartans, as well as a loss to the Spartans of USC Upstate (and another you can’t blame them for against the Spartans of Michigan State).  They are undefeated after 1 ACC game, with their overtime win in Miami on December 8, and will resume ACC play on January 7 when they host Syracuse.  Before that they will host Maryland Eastern Shore on Tuesday.

15.  Boston College (4-9, 0-1 ACC, LW: 15)
The struggles of Steve Donahue’s Eagles continue, with a 19-point loss to VCU on Saturday on a neutral floor in Brooklyn.  Out of the Eagles 4 wins, only 1 is against a quality opponent (Washington), with the other 3 coming against Florida Atlantic, Sacred Heart, and Division II Philadelphia.  While none of the teams they’ve lost to are morbidly bad teams, with the worst being Auburn, there are still a few games they’ve played that an ACC team should have won, or at least been competitive.  All 5 starters from last year’s team are back, but the Eagles have regressed, surely putting Donahue on the hot seat before conference play is even in full swing.  They have already lost an ACC game to Maryland, on December 12, and after traveling to Harvard on New Year’s Day, they will resume ACC play at home against Clemson.

NFL Picks for Week 17

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Week 17 in the National Football League is here, and very little is settled in the playoff race.  Up to 13 games out of the 16 scheduled for Sunday will have playoff implications in some way, whether it is on seeding, divisional titles, wild cards, first round byes, or all of the above.  I’ve narrowed that list from 13 down to the 5 biggest games from Sunday, all of which (except one) have playoff implications for both teams.

Game of the Week:  Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) at Chicago Bears (8-7)
The Bears are 3-point home underdogs in this game for the NFC North division title.  Why?  Aaron Rodgers.  Early in the week, the Bears were favored by 3, but then the Packers announced QB Aaron Rodgers would return to action after a 7-week layoff with a broken left collarbone.  The former MVP of both the NFL regular season and the Super Bowl returns for another big game, a spot he tends to thrive in.  On the other sideline, Bears QB Jay Cutler is 1-8 in his career against the Packers, and has horrific numbers in recent games against them.  The Bears are playing another good offense this week, just 7 days after allowing 54 points against the Eagles (in a game I picked them to win!).  The Packers won’t score that much, but Aaron Rodgers will let the Bears’ defense know he’s back.  By the way, the Packers are trying to become just the 2nd division winner since 1970 with no Pro-Bowlers (although that could change due to injuries and Super Bowl players dropping out of the Pro Bowl)
Packers 38, Bears 24.

Big Game Guarantee:  Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
The Eagles are 7-point road favorites in another win-or-go-home divisional game, this one being in the NFC East.  I had already decided after watching the Eagles beat the Bears 54-11 on Sunday night that I would pick them against the Cowboys, who seemingly have made it a perennial habit to play these Week 17 elimination games (only winning 1 in recent memory, in 2009).  Then the news broke Monday (and was confirmed on Friday) that Cowboys QB Tony Romo had a season-ending back injury.  While Kyle Orton is a more than worthy backup (69 career starts), it’s tough to ask someone to step into an elimination situation for their first significant playing time of the year.  Recent teams in such a situation in Week 17 elimination games or playoff games are 1-3.  The Eagles have won 6 out of 7, and are 5-2 on the road, although the Cowboys are 5-2 at home, and are attempting for their first sweep of division games since 1998 (they are 5-0 so far against the NFC East).  The Cowboys defense has really been struggling ever since, ironically, the last time they played the Eagles, and the Eagles offense is firing on all cylinders, led by breakout QB Nick Foles.
Eagles 45, Cowboys 21.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
The Cardinals are 1-point favorites in a game they must have to stay alive for an NFC Wild Card berth in the playoffs.  They need the Saints, who will be playing their game simultaneously, to lose to the Buccaneers for this game to be a potential playoff clincher, although I wouldn’t hold my breath that the Bucs will beat the Saints.  This is a tough Cardinal team at home, at 7-1, and they are the first team in 2 years to go into Seattle and leave with a win.  Then again, the 49ers are 5-2 on the road, with their only losses to the Seahawks and Saints, and they beat the Cardinals 32-20 in Week 6.  The 49ers have clinched a playoff berth, but still have an outside chance at the division title, and even more of an outside chance at being the NFC’s top seed.  Both teams “need” this game to accomplish one of their goals, but the Cardinals need it more, and will have the crowd behind them (although I don’t think it will matter, in the end).
Cardinals 24, 49ers 20.

Upset of the Week:  Baltimore Ravens (8-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)
The Bengals are a touchdown favorite at home, in a game with large playoff implications.  The Bengals still have a shot at a first round bye, needing a win and some help.  The Ravens still have a shot to make the playoffs, needing a win and some help.  Therefore, this should be a good game, since both teams have a lot to play for.  The Bengals are 7-0 at home this year, very quietly establishing themselves with one of the league’s biggest home-field advantages.  The Ravens are 2-5 on the road, which is certainly problematic for coach John Harbaugh, although they picked up a big road win 2 weeks ago in Detroit and beat the Dolphins in Miami in a game that may come in handy as a playoff tie-breaker.  They have also won 4 out of 5 and 5 out of 7 since their 3-6 start.  Like last year’s team on their run to the Super Bowl title, they will find a way to win one they really need.
Ravens 23, Bengals 21.

Closer Than The Experts Think:  Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-7)
This game is the exception out of these 5 games, because it doesn’t have any playoff implications for the Chiefs.  No matter what happens in any game on Sunday, they will be the 5th seed in the AFC.  The Chargers do have a lot to play for…maybe.  They need a win and losses by both the Dolphins and Ravens to clinch the AFC’s 6th and final seed.  Since the Dolphins and Ravens both play at 1:00 ET and this game is at 4:25 ET, the Chargers will know if their dreams are still alive or not.  If my upset pick above is correct, this game will actually be meaningless for both teams.  Either way, I think Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers will lead his team to victory, but by a margin closer than the spread which favors the Chargers by 9, but only because the game may only be meaningful for them and not the Chiefs, who may or may not rest some of their players.  In Week 12, the Chargers beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, 41-38.

By the way, I just looked at my projections for how everyone would finish that I published in my “NFL Midseason Report”.  For laughs, it had the Redskins at 8-8, the Texans and Falcons at 7-9, and the Dolphins at 6-10.  Other than a handful of teams, however, I feel like my projections were fairly accurate, and there is a real possibility of me getting all 6 AFC teams correct, and almost in the right order.

College Football Picks for Bowl Week 2

The first week of bowl games have come and gone, so let’s look at the second week of bowl matchups.  This week of bowls carries all the way through the Cotton Bowl.  I’ll be looking separately at the BCS matchups in a post coming up on Tuesday.

Game of the Week:  AT&T Cotton Bowl, #13 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs #8 Missouri (11-2)
Missouri is a 1-point favorite in the 52nd meeting between these schools, in a commonly played series from Missouri’s time in the Big 12.  The Tigers lead the all-time series, 28-23, but Oklahoma State has won 3 in a row and 4 out of 5.  As for the present, both teams are coming off of losses, after Missouri lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, and Oklahoma State lost to rival Oklahoma in the “Bedlam” game, after being within a win of the Big 12 title and a BCS bowl berth.  These teams are pretty even, with one exception.  Missouri has losses to the 2nd and 9th ranked teams in the nation (with the loss to South Carolina in double overtime), while Oklahoma’s losses are to the 11th ranked Sooners and a 4-8 West Virginia team.  These teams are both very good at their best, but Oklahoma State is much poorer at their worst than Missouri is.
Missouri 38, Oklahoma State 35.

Big Game Guarantee:  Hyundai Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech (8-4) vs #17 UCLA (9-3)
UCLA is a 7-point favorite in El Paso against the Hokies.  UCLA’s 3 losses this season are all to teams in the top 14 in the BCS (Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State).  They also have convincing wins over Nebraska, Washington, and USC.  The Hokies got off to a good start to the season at 6-1, with the only loss to Alabama.  During that stretch, while they weren’t blowing teams out, they were doing enough to win.  Since then, however, they are just 2-3, with losses to Duke, Boston College, and Maryland, and with one of their wins coming against 2-10 Virginia.  I just don’t see the Hokies being able to beat the Bruins based on the seasons these two teams have had.  UCLA also continues to be inspired, playing in memory of WR Nick Pasquale, who died on September 8.
UCLA 31, Virginia Tech 13.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  Outback Bowl, Iowa (8-4) vs #16 LSU (9-3)
LSU is a touchdown favorite in Tampa’s annual New Year’s bowl game.  While this may not have the prestige of some of the other New Year’s bowls, it was this bowl game a year ago that produced South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney’s hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith that was looped over and over on SportsCenter all year, showing this bowl can also produce memorable moments.  As for the Hawkeyes and Tigers, they both come into the game having produced solid seasons.  Iowa’s 4 losses are all to currently ranked teams, with the worst of them being at home to Northern Illinois. They also have convincing road wins against both Minnesota and Nebraska.  While anything short of the BCS is a disappointing season at LSU, they can still be proud of a year in which they beat Texas A&M and Florida.  More notably, however, they are the only team in the nation to beat Auburn, who will play for the national championship.  The Tigers only losses are to Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss, all on the road.  The only surprise in that batch was the loss to Ole Miss.
LSU 31, Iowa 17.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Nebraska (8-4) vs #22 Georgia (9-3)
Georgia is favored by 9 in Jacksonville against Nebraska.  Georgia began the year with national championship hopes, although they lost to Clemson on opening night.  Additional losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, as they battled multiple key injuries, derailed any chances of even winning the SEC East.  The Bulldogs still were able to come from 20 points down to take a 38-37 lead on Auburn, only to be the victim of the (first) “Miracle at Jordan-Hare”.  The Bulldogs have beaten both South Carolina and LSU, both top 15 teams who were ranked 6th when they played the Bulldogs.  They also won over Florida in their last trip to Jacksonville.  Nebraska has lost 4 games, all by double digits, to UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Iowa.  The way the season unfolded had many wondering whether coach Bo Pelini would be fired, but he remains the coach going into both this game and next season.  Nebraska has a good team, and is capable of beating Georgia, but with Georgia being more healthy they will be back to a team with top 10 capabilities, even without QB Aaron Murray.
Georgia 35, Nebraska 21.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  Russell Athletic Bowl, Miami (9-3) vs #18 Louisville (11-1)
Louisville is a 4-point favorite in a matchup of two teams that had national title hopes over the first half of the season.  Louisville started the year ranked 9th, and won their first 6 games by comfortable margins before being upset by UCF on October 18.  They have won every game since, although their last 3 wins were by a touchdown each.  Miami wishes it could rid its schedule of a 15-day stretch in early November.  They came into this stretch at 7-0 after winning over Florida and surviving upset bids against North Carolina and Wake Forest.  Then, in that 3 game stretch, they lost to Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Duke, each by 18 or more points.  Both teams seem solid, although it seems like Louisville really only had one bad night, while Miami had 3 bad games in a row in the not-too-distant past.
Louisville 27, Miami 19.

Upset of the Week:  Capital One Bowl, #19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs #9 South Carolina (10-2)
In a spread I don’t understand, Wisconsin is a 1-point favorite on South Carolina on New Year’s Day in Orlando.  In general, when a 3-loss Big Ten team plays a 2-loss SEC team, I would give the edge to the 2-loss SEC team.  While South Carolina does have the unexplainable loss to Tennessee, their only other loss was to Georgia, back when they were healthy, and they have quality wins over Missouri and UCF (on the road) and Clemson.  Wisconsin’s individual numbers are impressive, with a pair of 1300+ yard rushers, and while 2 of their 3 losses are to top 15 opponents in Ohio State and Wisconsin, they also have a loss at home to Penn State.  In addition, their best wins are against Minnesota and Iowa.  The Badgers have had a solid year, with an impressive, veteran roster, but the Gamecocks can match them position-by-position, and seem to have a better résumé coming into this game.
South Carolina 27, Wisconsin 20.

Another Upset of the Week:  Belk Bowl, Cincinnati (9-3) vs North Carolina (6-6)
The Tar Heels, playing in their home state in Charlotte, are 3-point favorites against the Bearcats.  Unlike my first upset pick, I do understand the spread for this game because the Tar Heels come in playing very well, and had won 5 consecutive games to get bowl eligible before their loss to Duke in their regular season finale.  Cincinnati, however, is 9-3, and is coming off an overtime loss to the 11-1 Louisville Cardinals.  Before that, they had won 6 straight, playing only 2 close games over that stretch.  Looking back at North Carolina, while they did reach the 6-win plateau, they did so with only 2 wins over a school with a winning record.  Other wins included NC State, Virginia, and Old Dominion, hardly résumé-building victories.  If you think the Charlotte location will favor the Heels, last year Cincinnati played in this game against a hungry Duke team who was playing in their first bowl in 17 years, and won by 2 touchdowns.
Cincinnati 41, North Carolina 35.

Another Upset of the Week:  Valero Alamo Bowl, #10 Oregon (10-2) vs Texas (8-4)
Go ahead and call me crazy.  I not only think Texas will beat the odds, being 14-point underdogs; I think they will shock the nation and beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.  Oregon comes into the game having just missed the Pac-12 North division title and an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl.  While they lost to the team who won the division in Stanford, it was a mega-upset loss against Arizona that really cost the Ducks.  This team entered November at #3 in the nation, with an excellent shot at a national title, before those 2 losses.  While Texas has really struggled at times this year, they have also shown their excellent capability, most notably with a win over Oklahoma, 36-20.  This team is playing at home in Texas and, unlike Oregon, will be glad to be at this particular bowl game after such a rough start to the season.  Texas will also be playing their first game since learning of the impending resignation of coach Mack Brown.  Over the years, when players know are playing their final game for their current head coach, they tend to elevate their level of play to get that final win for their coach.  The best example was in the 2010 Gator Bowl, when a 6-6 Florida State team beat a 9-3, 16th ranked West Virginia team by 12 in Bobby Bowden’s final game.  I believe Mack Brown, who recruited every one of Texas’ players, and has visibly had an impact on them, is the main reason Texas wins this game.
Texas 31, Oregon 28.

Closer Than The Experts Think:  Chick-Fil-A Bowl, #24 Duke (10-3) vs #21 Texas A&M (8-4)
Texas A&M is favored by 12 in this New Year’s Eve matchup in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  The spread is understandable, as A&M has one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Johnny Manziel, and has only lost 4 games due to a very tough schedule in the SEC.  Their losses are to Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Missouri, all teams in the top 16 (all in the top 8 except for LSU).  3 of the 4 losses were close games.  They are, however, coming off of consecutive losses for the first time all year, including their one blowout loss to LSU.  Duke is coming off their worst loss of the season, but it was to top-ranked Florida State, and the Blue Devils gave the Seminoles one of their closer first halves all year.  Before that, they had won 8 straight games to set a school record with 10 on the year, and beat two ranked opponents over that stretch.  They also won the ACC Coastal division title for the first time ever.  While none of Duke’s wins are blowouts, which is opposite of Texas A&M’s style, the Devils find a way.  While I don’t think they will win this game, I do think they find a way…to make it interesting in the 4th quarter.
Texas A&M 34, Duke 24.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 12/23

1. Syracuse (11-0)
With Pittsburgh’s loss to Cincinnati, Syracuse is now the last undefeated team in the ACC, and one of only 9 in the nation.  Wins over Baylor and St. John’s are their biggest triumphs, with their latest being a 21-point win over High Point.  The Orange are ranked 2nd  in the country, and will play the 8th-ranked Villanova Wildcats in a battle of undefeated teams this Saturday.  They will open ACC play with games against the 11th and 14th place teams in this ranking, which is about as easy as a 2-game stretch gets in the ACC.  If the Orange beat Villanova, they could be undefeated when North Carolina comes to town on January 11.

2. Duke (9-2)
Duke beat UCLA on Thursday for their biggest win of the season to date.  While Duke’s two losses are hardly “bad losses”, to Kansas and Arizona, the game with the Bruins was really just their second “résumé win”, with the other coming at home against Michigan.  They have a couple of lighter tests over the holidays with Eastern Michigan and Elon, before opening conference play January 4 at Notre Dame.  Freshman forward Jabari Parker is one of the best players in the nation, not just the ACC.

3. Florida State (8-3)
The Seminoles move up to 3rd in this ranking after losses by teams that had previously been above them, but also on the strength of their victory on Saturday against previously undefeated UMass.  The game was a defensive struggle, with a 60-55 score, but one of the announcers on the game remarked that in March, their résumé won’t say “ugly win” against UMass, but just “win”.  Their game against the Minutemen came after a 44-point win over Charlotte on Tuesday.  Last week the ‘Noles were no higher than 100th in any offensive category except field goal percentage, but now they have additionally climbed into the top 75 in points and rebounds per game.  They will play Charleston Southern on December 30 before opening conference play on December 4 against a good Virginia team.

4. Pittsburgh (11-1)
Speaking of defensive struggles, the Panthers of Pittsburgh played a really low scoring game Tuesday against Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic, losing their first game of the year by a 44-43 score.  They rebounded on Saturday with a 73-56 win over Cal Poly to improve to 11-1.  Albany comes to the Petersen Events Center on New Year’s Eve in Pitt’s final preparation for traveling to NC State and hosting Maryland in the first week of ACC play.

5. North Carolina (8-3)
The best way to describe the Tar Heels’ season is that is has been (and will likely continue to be) a roller coaster.  A loss to Texas and an overtime win against Davidson (in a game Davidson probably should have won) are the latest installments in a season full of big wins and hard to explain losses.  This team seems to play to the level of their opponent as they have, after all, beaten Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, but have also lost to Belmont and UAB.  The Heels will host Northern Kentucky and UNC Wilmington before opening conference play at Wake Forest, a place that was fairly tough for opponents last year.

6. Notre Dame (8-4)
Notre Dame had a good chance to move up in this ranking, and possibly even move into the Top 25 in the polls, with their game in New York against Ohio State.  The Irish led the game by 8 in the final minute before imploding to a 3-point loss to the 3rd-ranked Buckeyes.  The loss is added to earlier losses to Indiana State, Iowa, and North Dakota State, each a team with a good shot at dancing in March.   Perhaps the biggest loss is the loss of guard Jerian Grant, the team’s leading scorer, who as of yesterday is out for the season with academic issues.  They will only get to see how they play without him in one non-conference game, on Sunday against Canisius, before hosting Duke in their inaugural ACC game.

7. Virginia (8-3)
The Cavaliers got a bit of retribution for their loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay with a convincing win over Northern Iowa.  They will host Norfolk State and travel to Tennessee in their remaining non-conference games, before starting the ACC with a 6-game stretch that includes a home game with North Carolina, road games at Duke and NC State, and two contests with Florida State.  The Cavaliers have a good leadership core, including senior forward Akil Mitchell, and senior guard Joe Harris, one of the ACC’s best players.

8. NC State (10-2)
The Wolfpack added a quality win over Tennessee this week, as well as a shootout win over East Carolina.  This offense, although it includes two freshman and a junior college transfer in the starting lineup, seems to be clicking quite well, led by forward TJ Warren, who is averaging 23.9 points per game.  That is 1st in the ACC, 6th in the nation, and 2nd among players in a “power conference”.  The Pack will face their toughest test on Saturday, when 25th-ranked Missouri comes to Raleigh in a big non-conference showdown, leading into a difficult 6-game stretch to start conference play, including road games against Notre Dame and Duke and a home game against Pittsburgh.

9. Maryland (8-5, 1-0 ACC)
The Terrapins drop from 8th to 9th after a 6-point loss on Saturday to Boston University.  The Terps have a good team, but Mark Turgeon’s troops have struggled at times throughout November and December.  To their credit, they are 1-0 in ACC play after beating Boston College in an early conference game.  Maryland was projected in the NCAA field in last week’s Bracketology on espn.com, although they were a 12 seed, meaning the loss to Boston University likely jeopardizes that status.  Then again, it’s early.  Tulsa and NC Central come to College Park before Maryland begins their final ACC campaign.

10. Wake Forest (10-2)
Wake Forest has improved from last year’s squad that went 6-12 in ACC play, which may be scary for those coming into the Joel Coliseum over the course of the season since they had home wins against Miami and NC State, and a close home loss to Duke, during last year’s campaign.  Back in the present, the Deacons beat St. Bonaventure and UNC Greensboro this week, leading into their first true road game of the year at Xavier this Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic (Prosser coached at both schools in the 1990s-2000s, and their annual series is named in his memory).  North Carolina comes to Winston-Salem on January 5 for the Deacs first conference test.

11. Miami (7-5, 0-1 ACC)
The young Hurricanes are back on their feet after a rough start to the season, beating Savannah State on the road and La Salle at home to get their record over the .500 mark.  They will play Loyola (MD) on December 30 after a week off for Christmas before starting conference play with road tests at Syracuse and North Carolina.  While this team is young, and can therefore be sporadic at times, Jim Larranaga has a good group of athletes who is capable being competitive in the ACC.

12. Clemson (8-3)
Clemson had a good start to the season, and this time last week, at 8-2, were listed in ESPN’s Bracketology as the 6th team out of the NCAA Tournament, which is quite an accomplishment for a team most everyone picked to finish 14th in the ACC.  That all changed, however, with a road loss at Auburn, a team picked to finish last in the SEC.  That loss brings back questions regarding this team’s leadership and age, with only one non-conference game left against VMI before beginning conference play.  One positive for the Tigers is that 2 of their first 4 conference games are against the bottom 2 teams in these rankings, although both of those games are on the road.

13. Georgia Tech (8-4)
Over the last week the Yellow Jackets have won against Kennesaw State and lost to Vanderbilt.  The loss to the Commodores was the worst of their losses, with their other losses coming to Dayton, Ole Miss, and St. John’s.  Georgia Tech’s best win was at home over Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, although that is really their only impressive win, with their next best being over a struggling Georgia team.  The youth of this team is its biggest weakness, and that will likely show itself in early conference games on the road at Maryland and Duke.

14. Virginia Tech (7-4)
The 13-day layoff the Virginia Tech Hokies had between their overtime win over Miami and their game with VCU really seemed to affect them, as they never had a chance against the Rams and lost by 30.  This was their most embarrassing loss in terms of points, although their opening day loss to USC Upstate may be their worst from an opponent standpoint.  Games with UNC Greensboro and Maryland Eastern Shore remain before the ACC’s shallowest roster begins conference play against Syracuse on January 7 in a matchup of former Big East teams.

15. Boston College (4-8)
The Eagles tough start to a tough schedule continued with a 10-point loss on the road at Auburn.  They have played a much tougher schedule than those teams around him in these rankings, although the Eagles have had very little success with that schedule.  Therefore, while everyone else in the ACC sits fairly comfortably over the .500 mark, the Eagles are unfortunately nowhere close, sitting 4 games under the mark.  They have 2 non-conference games left, against a VCU team that beat Virginia Tech by 30, and on the road at Harvard in an annual series that the Eagles haven’t won in since 2007, before the start of conference play.

NFL Picks for Week 16

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Game of the Week:  New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
The Panthers are 3-point favorites at home in a battle that will likely be for the NFC South division title.  All the winner will have to do will be to win again next week, and both teams play opponents in Week 17 that are currently 4-10.  The Saints are coming off an embarrassing road loss against the Rams a week ago, and have lost 3 out of their last 4 road contests.  The Panthers have only lost once at home all year, and that was back in Week 1 against the 12-2 Seattle Seahawks.  That game may have been the Panthers best showing defensively, allowing just 12 points against Russell Wilson and company.  The Panthers have additionally won 9 out of 10 overall, although the one loss was a blowout to these Saints two weeks ago in New Orleans.  But the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are in the Superdome, and the Panthers should want ultimate payback, as winning would let them control their destiny to win the division and get a playoff bye.
Panthers 28, Saints 24.

Big Game Guarantee:  New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
The Ravens are 2-point home favorites, which means the oddsmakers see these teams as pretty even.  The Patriots are in good position heading towards the playoffs, although they haven’t clinched their division just yet, and are battling the Broncos, Bengals, and Chiefs to see who will get a playoff bye.  Those 4 losses, however, have come in their last 5 road games, and they will head into a tough environment this week in Baltimore.  The Ravens have won 4 straight, and have only lost once at home all year, to the Packers back when they still had Aaron Rodgers.  That loss was also part of a 3-5 start for the defending Super Bowl champions.  Since, they are 5-1, including an 18-16 win over Detroit, without scoring a touchdown in a defensive battle on Monday night.  Count on a close game, as the Ravens have played 9 games decided by 3 points or less, and the Patriots have played 9 games decided by 4 points or less.
Ravens 23, Patriots 20.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
The 49ers are favored by 14 in their final regular season game at Candlestick Park.  It will likely be the final game, as it is unlikely the 49ers will be able to host a playoff game, based on where they currently sit in the standings.  The game itself is almost an afterthought, as the Falcons, who were preseason playoff contenders, have struggled to a 4-10 record, and have not beaten a team with a winning record all season.  The 49ers have won 4 straight, including a win over the NFC-leading Seahawks two weeks ago, coming into this Monday Night Football contest.  The magnitude of this game is not as much in the game itself as it is in the farewell of one of the game’s great venues, based on both its unique design and its unequaled history.
49ers 30, Falcons 17.

Upset of the Week:  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
Green Bay hosts this pivotal matchup that will affect the playoff race in both the AFC and the NFC, and is favored by 2.  The Packers, however, will play their 7th straight game without QB Aaron Rodgers, and are 1-4-1 in the first 6 games without him.  That hurts even more when considering the fact Rodgers is 2-0 with 687 yards, 6 TD, and no interceptions in his career against Pittsburgh, including his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV.  The Steelers seemed to come alive last week against Cincinnati, upsetting the division-leading Bengals by 10 to keep their slim playoff chances alive.  While the Steelers need a lot of help to make the playoffs, the first thing that needs to happen is for them to win their final 2 games.  The Packers are in a similar situation, leaving this as almost an elimination game in the playoff pursuit.  The difference in these two teams is that one has their elite quarterback and the other does not.
Steelers 24, Packers 20.

Another Upset of the Week:  Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
The Eagles are 3-point home favorites in this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football, in a game between two teams both trying to win their respective divisions and make the playoffs in their first season under a new head coach.  The Bears, under coach Mark Trestman,  come into the game having won back-to-back games for just the second time all year, and just got QB Jay Cutler back from injury last week against Cleveland.  They control the NFC North, for now, and can clinch with 2 wins these final 2 weeks of the season (they could actually clinch Sunday, but need to win and have some help from the Steelers and the Giants, who play the Packers and Lions).  The Eagles are in a similar position, with this game and one against the Cowboys next week remaining in their quest to make the playoffs under Chip Kelly.  They are coming off an unexpected loss to the Vikings last week, and this game actually won’t mean a thing if the Cowboys beat the Redskins in the afternoon (because whether the Eagles win or lose, the game with Dallas next week would still be for the division title).  The Bears come in on more of a positive note, and in all likelihood will have more riding on this game.
Bears 37, Eagles 28.

College Football Picks for Bowl Week 1

Bowl season is here, which means there will be college football games almost constantly between now and January 6.  While the first week of bowls do not produce any huge matchups, as all the highly ranked teams don’t play until around New Year’s, and the national title game isn’t until January 6, there are still some good matchups in some of these smaller bowl games.

Game of the Week:  Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, #20 Fresno State (11-1) vs #25 USC (9-4) (-6)
 These two teams come into the biggest bowl before Christmas having had two very different seasons.  Fresno State, led by QB Derek Carr, started the year 10-0 and was battling with Northern Illinois for a BCS at-large bid (neither ended up getting one, because both lost).  The dream ended when they allowed 62 points to San Jose State the day after Thanksgiving.  An interesting note is that this team has won games in overtime against Rutgers and San Diego State, and beat Boise State by just 1 point.  USC has had a soap opera-like season, that started with the mid-season firing of coach Lane Kiffin.  That was followed by the team going 6-2 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, with their only losses to Notre Dame and UCLA.  Due to the success, Orgeron felt he deserved to be named head coach, but when Steve Sarkisian was hired instead and the school offered Orgeron a high-paying assistant position, he declined.  Clay Helton will assume the interim position for their game against Fresno State.  With all of that going on at USC, focusing on a bowl game may be difficult, particularly for a program so used to going to big bowl games and now playing before Christmas.  Also, USC struggled on defense at times this year, and this may be the best offense they’ve played.  Then again, Fresno State can probably say the same.  USC is favored by 6, although that may just be a basic case of name recognition when these teams are actually somewhat even.
Fresno State 45, USC 38.

Big Game Guarantee:  Texas Bowl, Syracuse (6-6) vs Minnesota (8-4)
These are two of the bigger names to play in the first week of bowl games, even if neither football program has really been at the top recently.  That may change soon, as both of these programs are on the rise.  Syracuse is in their first year of ACC play, which has been highlighted by 4 wins in conference play, including two against bowl-eligible teams (Maryland, Boston College).  However, the Orange also have bad losses to Northwestern, who was just 1-7 in Big Ten play, and Georgia Tech, who is in a bowl game but beat Syracuse by 56.  Minnesota, who is favored by 4, was 4-2 to start the season, with losses coming to Iowa and Michigan, before coach Jerry Kill took a leave of absence to seek treatment for epilepsy.  While their record since is an identical 4-2, they have played better since against a tougher portion of their schedule, with wins against Nebraska and Penn State, among others, and losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State, both of whom are ranked in the top 20 and playing bowl games on New Year’s Day.  Minnesota lost the Texas Bowl a year ago, and may be looking for redemption.
Minnesota 24, Syracuse 20.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Boise State (8-4) vs Oregon State (6-6)
Oregon State is favored by 3 when these teams play Christmas Eve in Maui.  However, the Beavers have lost 5 straight since their 6-1 start, and that first loss was in their season-opening game against Eastern Washington.  While their 5 consecutive losses are all to good football teams, they only had a good chance to win in 2 of those games.  To the contrary, they did look pretty good in a 1-point loss to Oregon in their last regular season game.  Boise State has had their own struggles at times this season, with blowout losses at Washington and at BYU, as well as close losses on the road against Fresno State and San Diego State.  The Broncos will find motivation for this game after losing their head coach, Chris Petersen, who has taken the job at Washington after 13 years in Boise (8 years as head coach).  The conference the Broncos lost their coach to, the Pac-12, coincidentally happens to be the same conference Oregon State is in.  I simply believe the Broncos have more motivation in this case than the Beavers, and the winner of a bowl game is often the team that wants to be there the most.
Boise State 27, Oregon State 26.

Another Big Game Guarantee:  Fight Hunger Bowl, BYU (8-4) vs Washington (8-4)
 Washington is favored by 3 in a matchup of two pretty good 8-4 football teams taking place at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, home of the Giants from April to October.  I say that after looking at the seasons each of these teams have had.  Washington’s season has been highlighted by blowout wins against Boise State, Arizona, and Oregon State, as well as 10-point wins over both Illinois and in-state rival Washington State.  Their 4 losses are all to teams currently ranked in the top 17, including losing by just 3 at Stanford.  Perhaps this success is a big reason coach Steve Sarkisian has left for the USC job, perhaps offering this team extra motivation for this game.  BYU has had a similar season, with wins over Texas, Boise State, and Georgia Tech.  Additionally, all of their losses except a season-opening loss to Virginia are understandable, although they could have beaten Utah in a close game.  There should be a lot of offense in this contest, as Washington is 8th in total offense and BYU is 14th.
Washington 49, BYU 38.

Upset of the Week:  Little Caesar’s Bowl, Pittsburgh (6-6) vs Bowling Green (10-3)
Bowling Green is favored by 5 in this game, which will be played at Ford Field in Detroit, only about a 75 minute drive from their campus in northern Ohio.  The Falcons come into the game at 10-3, and as champions of the MAC after beating Northern Illinois in the championship game, which was also at Ford Field.  Their three losses are to Mississippi State by a point, Toledo by 3, and Indiana by 32.  That last one is unusual considering how much the Hoosiers struggled throughout the season.  In addition to their 7-1 MAC record, they beat Tulsa 34-7 in non-conference play.  While they have a good résumé, Pittsburgh is better than most of the teams they have beaten.  Pitt may have 6 losses, but they are all to teams who are playing bowl games, and #1 Florida State is the only team to blow them out.  Actually, that Florida State game (41-13) was closer than most of the Seminoles games this year.  The Panthers also have a couple of quality wins over Duke and Notre Dame.  I’ll be curious in this game to see how Bowling Green responds to playing an ACC opponent, particularly after losing their head coach, Dave Clawson, who left for Wake Forest, which is ironically in the ACC.
Pittsburgh 31, Bowling Green 23.

Another Upset of the Week:  R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Tulane (7-5) vs Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
Tulane is a 1-point favorite in their home building at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.  While this game may be on their home turf (literally), Louisiana-Lafayette isn’t far from home either, and seems to have made a home playing in New Orleans on the third Saturday in December, as this is the 3rd consecutive year the Ragin’ Cajuns have played in this bowl game.  Lafayette comes into the game having lost back-to-back games, although Tulane has lost 3 out of 4.  This will be Tulane’s first bowl game in 11 years, and while they have 5 losses, 1 was to ACC opponent Syracuse.  Similarly, 2 of Lafayette’s 4 losses were to Arkansas and Kansas State.  These two neighboring schools have played 15 times, with Tulane winning 10 of the 15, although Lafayette won last year’s meeting, 41-13, in the only meeting since 2000.
Louisiana-Lafayette 28, Tulane 17.

College Football Power Rankings for Week 15

Bowl Championship Series

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago, an analyst on ESPN remarked that, although at the time there were 4-5 teams with a legitimate case to play for a national title, the BCS usually takes care of itself, and that we would probably end up with a clear top 2 to play for the national title on January 6 in Pasadena.  Well, thanks to some of the top teams taking care of business while others fell victim to upsets, it took care of itself, and now Florida State will play Auburn for the national championship.

1. Florida State (13-0).
The Seminoles looked like they could be in trouble for the first part of the game against Duke, as they struggled to a scoreless tie in the first quarter and were only ahead 17-0 at halftime, leaving Duke still in the game.  They played a little better in the second half, eventually winning 45-7 for the ACC title.  Florida State was in the first 3 BCS championship games, from 1998-2000, but this is the first time since then that they have played for a title (they won 1 out of those previous 3).  So, as it turns out, Florida State will bookend the BCS era with appearances, against an SEC champion, in the championship game (in 1998, they lost 23-16 to Tennessee).  A big key to the Seminoles success, QB Jameis Winston, is a finalist for the Heisman trophy, and is the overwhelming favorite to win it.

2. Auburn (12-1).
Auburn’s rushing attack on offense had perhaps its best performance yet on Saturday, scoring 59 points on a good Missouri defense in the SEC Championship game to win, 59-42.  With the loss of Ohio State, who was previously ahead of the Tigers, Auburn moves to 2nd in the polls and, more importantly, the BCS standings.  While a few may argue a case for other teams near the top to be #2, I firmly believe Auburn is the right call (Alabama is probably the better team, but Auburn beat them head-to-head, so they are wholly deserving of being ranked higher).  Their only loss was back in September to a good LSU team, and Auburn is a much better team here at the end of the season than they were then.  In addition, they are tied for the 2nd longest winning streak in the nation, behind only Florida State.  Like Florida State, Auburn has a Heisman finalist in RB Tre Mason.

3. Alabama (11-1).
Most Alabama fans probably didn’t expect their team to be off on the first weekend in December, but after the loss to Auburn, that was the case, as it was the Tigers and not the Tide playing in the SEC Championship.  QB AJ McCarron’s 36-3 career record as a starter will be rewarded with a trip to New York this week, as he too is a Heisman finalist.  Alabama will travel to New Orleans on January 2 to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.  While a BCS bowl game is a reward for a great season, it certainly must feel like a letdown for the Tide to be playing the 11th ranked Sooners in the Superdome instead of playing Florida State in Pasadena.

4. Michigan State (12-1).
The Spartans defeated Ohio State, 34-24, to end the Buckeyes national title chances in the Big Ten Championship Game.  While other teams around them (Stanford, Baylor) also picked up big wins over the weekend, I jumped Michigan State over them because they were the only team to beat a higher-ranked team in their game, and that team was ranked #2.  They not only jumped from 10th to 4th in this ranking, but also in the BCS standings.  Michigan State is tied with Auburn for the nation’s 2nd longest winning streak, with their only loss coming to Notre Dame on September 21.  Their Big Ten title will be rewarded with a trip to “The Granddaddy Of Them All,” the Rose Bowl on January 1 against Stanford.

5. Stanford (11-2).
Out of the 4 “power conferences” with a conference championship game, the Pac-12’s title game is the only one played on the home field of the team with the better conference record.  That meant the Stanford Cardinal had to go on the road for their conference championship game against Arizona State, so the fact that they beat the Sun Devils 38-14 is very impressive.  The win marked the second time this season the Cardinal had beaten the Sun Devils, and also their 7th win against a ranked opponent.  Losses to Utah and USC, both on the road, are what have Stanford playing Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, and not potentially competing for a national title.  This will be Stanford’s 4th consecutive BCS bowl appearance, the longest active streak.

6. Baylor (11-1).
When Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Baylor-Texas game was suddenly a de facto championship game in the Big 12.  When Baylor won, 30-10, it put the Bears in the Fiesta Bowl after their first conference title since 1980 (in the now-defunct Southwest Conference), and clinched their first 11-win season ever.  Adding to the emotion of their accomplishments was the fact that Saturday’s game was the last at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco.  Some would put Baylor higher, but I like them here due to a slightly weaker schedule than the other 1-loss teams, and the blowout loss to Oklahoma State just 2 weeks ago.  Baylor will cap off their best season in school history with a trip to the Fiesta Bowl to play a UCF squad that is also having their best season in school history; there can, unfortunately, be only 1 storybook ending.

7. Ohio State (12-1).
The Buckeyes had their shot at a national title, but it ended Saturday with a 10-point loss to Michigan State.  The loss was Urban Meyer’s first loss in 2 years as Ohio State’s head coach (he had previously been 24-0).  Ohio State was the lowest ranked of the undefeated teams from the “Power 6” for most of the season, so now it’s appropriate they are the lowest ranked 1-loss team from the “Power 6”, excluding UCF and Louisville from the AAC (I guess we should start saying the “Power 5”).  This is because of a weaker schedule, and because some games were closer than expected.  The Buckeyes have only defeated 2 ranked opponents, and one of those was ranked at the time but went on to win only 1 conference game.  Ohio State’s consolation after falling short of a national title game appearance is a trip to the Orange Bowl to play Clemson.  (History reminder:  the last time Clemson and Ohio State played, it was in the 1978 Gator Bowl, and was Woody Hayes’ last game after he punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman)

8. South Carolina (10-2).
South Carolina stays 8th in these rankings after a week off, coming off their in-state rivalry game victory over Clemson.  They actually dropped a spot in the BCS, being jumped by Michigan State while failing to pass Missouri.  I have them ahead of Missouri, however, because both teams lost twice, but the Gamecocks won head-to-head.  While Auburn-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia are on everyone’s short lists of games of the year, the South Carolina-Missouri double overtime game also ranks right up there on mine.  The Gamecocks couldn’t get into the BCS due to a rule that only allows 2 bids per conference (no such rule will exist in the playoff system next year, including bids to the “Big 6” bowls), but still get a quality bid with a trip to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, where they will play the Wisconsin Badgers.  In an unusual spread, the Badgers have opened as 2-point favorites, although they have 1 more loss than the Gamecocks and come from what appears to be a weaker conference.

9. Missouri (11-2).
Missouri made their first trip to the SEC Championship Game on Saturday in just their 2nd season in the SEC.  The trip, however, was not a happy one, as the Tigers defense allowed 59 points to Auburn’s rushing attack, and the Tigers offense just couldn’t keep up, scoring just 42 (it’s not everyday I put the words “just” and “42” together when talking about football).  The loss was Missouri’s first loss in regulation, with the other loss coming in double overtime to South Carolina.  Nevertheless, Missouri has had an outstanding year, and will be rewarded by playing Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

10. Clemson (10-2).
Clemson moves back into the top-10 in these rankings, after spending just 1 week all season outside of them, following their 31-17 loss to South Carolina.  Clemson should still be considered among the nation’s elite, because their only losses this year are to teams currently ranked 1st and 9th in the BCS.  One negative point people find when talking about this team, and perhaps the reason they are down at 13th in the BCS, is the fact that they only have 1 win over a ranked opponent, and it was back on August 31 when they beat Georgia.  The Tigers will have an opportunity to change that when they play Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

Also considered:  Oregon (10-2), Oklahoma (10-2), Oklahoma State (10-2), UCF (11-1), Louisville (11-1), LSU (9-3), UCLA (9-3).

Fell from rankings:  Oklahoma State (10-2, lost to Oklahoma 33-24)

As for a breakdown of some good bowl matchups, stay tuned.

Note:  The remaining Heisman finalists are (in alphabetical order) Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, and Boston College RB Andre Williams.  This is the first time since 1993 that no one from the Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac 12 was a finalist.