ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 12/29

As New Year’s approaches, so does conference play in the ACC.  The league can currently claim three of the top five teams in the nation, and five ranked teams in the AP Poll.  No other conference has three teams in the top 12.  The ACC is also one of three conferences in which every team is currently over .500 for the season.

1. Duke (11-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
The Blue Devils had a light schedule over the last two weeks, with wins over Elon and Toledo, although they did travel to the Meadowlands to play UConn, beating the defending national champions, 66-56.  Duke is, in fact, one of two teams to currently be undefeated while winning all of their games by double figures, doing so with offense, ranking sixth nationally in points scored, and fifth in field goal percentage.  This week Duke hosts Wofford in a New Year’s Eve matinee, before beginning ACC play at home against Boston College.

2. Louisville (11-1, 2nd, 5th)
After a hotly contested win over Western Kentucky and an easy win over Cal State Northridge, the Cardinals hosted their in-state rival, top-ranked Kentucky, and played the Wildcats as well as anyone has all year, but lost 58-50.  While the Cardinals dropped a spot in the AP Poll (and dropped behind Virginia as well), I won’t penalize them for losing to easily the best team in the nation.  Louisville is currently fifth in the nation in rebounding and seventh in blocks.  This week, the Cards host Long Beach State on Tuesday, who will be playing their second ACC opponent in three days, before traveling to Wake Forest for their first ever ACC conference game.

3. Virginia (11-0, 3rd, 3rd)
The Cavaliers had a pair of dominant wins over Cleveland State and Harvard, with their defense, which allows the least points of anyone in the nation, leading the way, allowing just 27 points to a good Harvard team.  Besides Duke, the Cavaliers are the only other undefeated team to win all their games by double digits, including an 11-point win over Maryland, who is now up to 12th in the AP Poll.  Virginia will host 9-1 Davidson, whose only loss is to North Carolina, before traveling to Miami to begin their ACC title defense.

4. Notre Dame (12-1, 1-0 ACC, 6th, 14th)
Since their lone loss to Providence back on November 23, the Irish have won eight straight, including recent wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois, and have moved into the top 15.  The team ranks fifth in the nation in scoring average, and leads the nation in field goal percentage.  Hartford comes to South Bend on Tuesday, before the current ACC co-leaders (at 1-0) resume ACC play on Saturday at home against Georgia Tech, with games against North Carolina and Virginia looming next week.

5. North Carolina (9-3, 5th, 19th)
While the Tar Heels’ wins over UCLA and Florida don’t look as good now as they did in November, the Heels themselves look better, as they have won three straight games since their loss to Kentucky, including a convincing win over Ohio State.  Carolina is ranked second nationally in rebounding and tenth in assists, and after a Tuesday contest at home against William and Mary, they will travel to Clemson on Saturday to begin conference play.

6. Miami (9-3, 6th)
The Hurricanes lost both of their games over the last two weeks, with a stunning loss to Eastern Kentucky, followed by a neutral floor defeat against Providence.  While the team is relatively mediocre in every statistical category, they don’t seem to have any glaring weaknesses statistically either.  Charleston visits Coral Gables on Tuesday for the Canes final non-conference game before Miami starts ACC play with a big-time test against Virginia.

7. NC State (10-3, 1-0 ACC, 7th)
Coming off a controversial last-second loss to Wofford, the Wolfpack defeated Tennessee at home, lost to West Virginia at Madison Square Garden, then came from behind to beat a good mid-major team, Louisiana Tech.  While the Pack are seventh nationally in defensive rebounding, they do have two weaknesses: assists (275th) and steals (349th out of 351).  Cincinnati comes to Raleigh, but without ailing coach Mick Cronin, on Tuesday, before the Pack host Pittsburgh to re-open ACC play after their December 6 win over Wake Forest.

8. Pittsburgh (9-3, 8th)
The Panthers are currently riding a five game winning streak, beating 2014 NCAA team Manhattan and Holy Cross, as well as Oakland in overtime.  Like NC State, the Panthers are moderately good statistically, but have a couple of weaknesses, ranking 261st in defensive rebounds and 331st in steals.  Pitt will host the “Cinderella” of the NCAA Tournament from two seasons ago, Florida Gulf Coast, on Tuesday before beginning ACC play at NC State on Saturday, the same place they began their inaugural ACC season a year ago.

9. Syracuse (8-4, 9th)
The Orange nearly upset Villanova, taking the nation’s sixth-ranked team to overtime on the road, before falling just short after leading most of the way, and had comfortable wins over Colgate and Long Beach State.  While this year’s edition of the Orange have some of the trademarks of a Boeheim-coached team, ranking in the top 25 nationally in assists, steals, and blocks, and 40th in rebounding, the team ranks 41st in points allowed, which is unusually low for a Boeheim team.  Cornell comes to the Carrier Dome on New Year’s Eve, before the Orange head to Blacksburg to begin ACC play against Virginia Tech.

10. Georgia Tech (8-3, 10th)
The Yellow Jackets picked up a couple of wins over Appalachian State and Vanderbilt, before a road loss to Dayton ended the two-game streak.  Like some other ACC teams, the Jackets are statistically average, but there is an exception in one category, as they rank 34th in the country in rebounding.  Tuesday, the Jackets host Charlotte, before they travel to Notre Dame to begin league play with a tough road game.

11. Wake Forest (7-6, 0-1 ACC, 12th)
After a loss to Florida in a game closer than the 63-50 score would indicate, the Demon Deacons beat Bucknell, before rallying for a road win at Richmond on a Devin Thomas tip-in at the buzzer.  Before conference play has begun (or actually for the Deacs, with one league game under their belt), Danny Manning has already passed Jeff Bzdelik’s season high for road wins, getting his second of the year in the win over the Spiders.  Starting guard Mitchell Wilbekin was suspended for the last three games, but will return Wednesday when the Deacs host Princeton, before hosting Louisville’s first ACC game on Sunday night.

12. Clemson (7-4, 11th)
Coming off of three previous wins over the SEC, Clemson lost by 23 to rival South Carolina, being embarrassed by a program that has had one winning season since 2006.  The Tigers followed the loss with a win over Oakland and a break for Christmas.  A program that usually ranks strong defensively currently sits 213th in points allowed, although they are 38th in blocks.  Clemson hosts Robert Morris on Tuesday in their final tune-up before conference play begins at home against North Carolina on Saturday.

13. Florida State (7-5, 0-1 ACC, 14th)
While wins over North Florida and South Florida were pretty comfortable, a win over 3-10 Stetson was too close for comfort for Leonard Hamilton and the Seminoles.  While the ‘Noles only have one or two “bad losses”, they’ve simply been dominated in some of their losses to good teams.  While Florida State has already played a conference game, they are the only ACC team to not have a game this weekend (there is an odd number after all), as they play rival Florida on Tuesday at home before traveling to Mississippi State on Friday and resuming league play next week.

14. Boston College (7-4, 13th)
The Eagles dropped a home game against USC before a week off for Christmas, and returned with an easy win over UMass-Lowell.  Jim Christian’s first season has had its ups and downs, although only one of their losses should be considered “bad”, although some of their wins aren’t as overwhelming as they could be.  The teams best stat is that they rank 65th in steals, although there aren’t any areas where they are overwhelmingly bad.  The Eagles have no more tune-ups left before ACC play, and they start with a tough game, traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face the second-ranked Blue Devils of Duke.

15. Virginia Tech (8-4, 15th)
To the Hokies’ credit, they do currently have a four-game win streak, with recent wins over The Citadel, VMI, and Presbyterian.  However, early season losses that include Appalachian State and Radford show the Hokies have work to do to be competitive in the ACC.  One positive is that they rank 23rd in field goal percentage.  They’ll need to make plenty of shots as they travel to 17th-ranked West Virginia on Tuesday before opening conference play at home against Syracuse on Saturday to begin Buzz Williams’ ACC career.

Game of the Week: #3 Virginia at Miami, Saturday, 5:30 pm
The Cavaliers come in ranked third, with the nation’s top defense, and will come in ranked undefeated as long as they take care of business against Davidson.  This would have been a ranked matchup a couple of weeks ago, but Miami’s recent struggles have dropped them from the top 25.  A year ago in their league opener, nobody gave Miami much chance, as they headed to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse, but they gave the Orange a tough game, before losing narrowly at the end.  This Miami team is better than a year ago, and this time around the game is at home, against an equally vaunted opponent.  Jim Larranaga is good at having his teams prepared for these types of games, so look for his team to come out ready to compete in what should be a low-scoring game.  But in the end, Virginia is the better team.
Virginia 58, Miami 52.

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ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 12/15

While the ACC lost the ACC-Big Ten Challenge pretty soundly, as the Big Ten dominated much more than the 8-6 final margin would indicate, the ACC may still be the nation’s premier conference, at least at the top, as shown by their six teams among the AP’s top 25, and three in the top six.  Since the last power rankings two weeks ago, conference play has begun, with a pair of December conference games allowing Notre Dame and NC State to share the ACC lead, for now, at 1-0, as the rest of the conference waits until the first week of the new year to begin league play.  Until then, ACC fans will have to settle for a few more of the typical December mismatches, although we can look forward to games like UConn at Duke, Ohio State vs North Carolina, and Kentucky at Louisville.

1. Duke (8-0, Last Week: 1st)
The Blue Devils are not only among the ACC’s best, but sit 2nd in the AP Poll behind unanimous number one Kentucky, on the strength of their ACC-Big Ten Challenge win on the road at then 2nd-ranked Wisconsin.  Duke ranks second nationally in scoring average (89.1) and field goal percentage (.539), and third in assists per game (19.0).  They haven’t played since that win over the Badgers, but play Elon tonight and defending national champion UConn in the Meadowlands on Thursday.

2. Louisville (9-0, 2nd)
The fourth-ranked Cardinals have been impressive in their winning streak to start the season, including the three wins they now have over Big Ten opponents, beating Minnesota, Ohio State, and Indiana.  Coach Rick Pitino’s team lead the nation in rebounds per game (46.7), and they are in the top ten in every major defensive category.  The Cardinals play their first road game this week when they head to Western Kentucky (and don’t play another until their ACC opener at Wake Forest), and will host top-ranked Kentucky two days after Christmas.

3. Virginia (9-0, 3rd)
The Cavaliers have shown that those who thought last year’s ACC title run was a one-time thing for coach Tony Bennett were wrong, despite the loss of guard Joe Harris to graduation.  The Cavaliers are undefeated to start their title defense, including wins over Maryland and VCU.  Defense is this team’s strength, just as it was last year, as the Wahoos lead the nation in scoring defense (47.4 ppg).  Three home games against opponents from the mid-major ranks are all that stand between the Cavaliers hitting conference play unbeaten.

4. Miami (9-1, 4th)
The Hurricanes, who I was a critic of to start the year due to all the new faces (though mostly transfers) in Coral Gables, have played their way into the top 25, as they currently sit 18th in the AP Poll, with wins over Florida and Illinois, and only a misstep against Wisconsin-Green Bay to keep them from perfection.  While the Canes do not necessarily excel in one statistical category, ranking no higher than 44th in any facet of the game, they are among the top third of the nation in every category.  Miami hosts Eastern Kentucky and plays a neutral game with Providence in Brooklyn before a Christmas break.

5. North Carolina (6-3, 5th)
The Tar Heels struggled from the field in a loss to Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, then lost on the road to top-ranked Kentucky.  The loss to the Wildcats was expected, although the loss to the Hawkeyes was not, and in addition to an earlier loss to Butler, the Heels sit with three losses, a position they’re not exactly used to before Christmas.  Still, the seventh best rebounding team in the nation (43.6) is ranked 24th in the AP Poll, with wins over UCLA and Florida, as they prepare to travel (a little) to UNCG tomorrow for a “road game” (although the crowd will likely be in their favor) before a neutral game in Chicago against Ohio State.

6. Notre Dame (10-1, 8th)
As mentioned, Notre Dame picked up an ACC win on Saturday, beating Florida State convincingly at home, and after earlier wins against Michigan State and UMass, and only a one-point loss to Providence, the Irish find themselves in ranked 21st, a far cry from the struggles they had a year ago in their inaugural ACC campaign.  Mike Brey’s team shoots the ball very well, as they lead the nation in field goal percentage (.557) and are sixth in scoring average (84.9).  Their last big test before conference play comes in an in-state game in Indianapolis against Purdue on Saturday.

7. NC State (8-2, 6th)
Like Notre Dame, the Wolfpack sit at 1-0 in the ACC after they took care of business at home against Wake Forest in their league opener.  For the most part the Pack have been pretty impressive, although they have a pair of close losses to Purdue, on the road, and Wofford, in a controversial finish that may have cost them the win.  Mark Gottfried’s team is 13th in the country in rebounding (42.5), but is 233rd in assists per game (11.7), as they prepare to host Tennessee on Wednesday before playing West Virginia in New York on Saturday.

8. Pittsburgh (6-3, 9th)
The Panthers have had some ups and downs this year, including a recent loss to Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge before wins over Duquesne and St. Bonaventure.  The biggest down for this team has been a loss at Hawaii, while a win over Kansas State is their biggest up.  The Panthers are 16th in the nation in assists per game (16.2), but rank near the bottom in defensive rebounding and steals.  The toughest of their four remaining non-conference games will be a December 30 game against Florida Gulf Coast.

9. Syracuse (6-3, 7th)
The Orange are struggling, plain and simple.  In the past two weeks, they’ve lost games to Michigan, who has absolutely self-destructed since, and St. John’s, and won over Louisiana Tech, but only by a 71-69 margin.  This team is missing so many pieces that were a part of last year’s team that began 25-0, although they are still in the top 51 in every major defensive category.  They will head to 7th-ranked Villanova on Saturday for a game that will show the world if the missteps of this team were bumps in the road or signs of bigger struggles.

10. Georgia Tech (6-2, 10th)
The Yellow Jackets picked up a road win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, beating Northwestern, but followed that up with a home loss to USC Upstate.  Despite that loss, however, the Yellow Jackets have had a fine early season, better than many, including me, expected, with their only other loss coming to Marquette.  If the Jackets can improve on their 11.4 assists per game, which has them 253rd nationally, they could potentially be a sleeper in the ACC, although first they have to play a tough non-conference stretch against Appalachian State, Vanderbilt, Dayton (on the road), and Charlotte.

11. Clemson (6-3, 14th)
After a 4-3 start that included losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb, as well as one to Rutgers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the Tigers have shown some early season improvement, beating then 18th-ranked Arkansas and Auburn on their home floor.  The Tigers are 1-2 against the Big South this year, but 3-0 against the SEC.  While the Tigers are statistically average, even on defense, which is usually their strength, they have not played any high-scoring games, keeping most in the 60s, allowing them to stay in games, and even win a few.  Friday the Tigers travel to play rival South Carolina, which is their toughest remaining test in non-conference play.

12. Wake Forest (5-5, 12th)
The Demon Deacons are showing their youth at times this season, doing so as they struggled to losses against Minnesota and NC State.  That being said, they also showed their potential in a dominant win over Samford.  The biggest stat for the Deacs is field goal percentage, as they rank 206th nationally (.427), and that’s with center Devin Thomas taking a lot of high-percentage shots (in other words, the outside game could use some improvement).  Danny Manning’s first season doesn’t get any easier, as the Deacs play a “neutral game” against Florida in Sunrise, FL (basically a road game), before hosing Bucknell and travelling to Richmond.

13. Boston College (6-3, 13th)
The Eagles won all four of their games over the last two weeks, beating Marist, rival Providence, Maine, and Binghamton, as the team has shown improvement since losses to UMass, West Virginia, and Dayton.  The Eagles have work to do, though, as they rank no higher than 194th in points, rebounds, and assists per game.  The Eagles host a Power Five opponent as USC comes to Conte Forum on Sunday in their last big test before opening conference play at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

14. Florida State (4-5, 11th)
After a 1-3 start, things haven’t gotten much better for the Seminoles, with recent losses to Nebraska and Notre Dame.  While neither loss is necessarily a bad loss, both games weren’t very close, and Leonard Hamilton’s team has a lot of work to do.  Hamilton’s teams are usually defensively strong, but this team ranks 248th in scoring defense (69.4) and 203rd in rebounding (34.7).  The Noles play a quartet of in-state games against North Florida, South Florida, Stetson, and Florida before beginning conference play.

15. Virginia Tech (5-4, 15th)
One of the youngest teams in the ACC is showing their youth, as the Hokies have recent losses to Penn State and Radford to keep them, for now, in the ACC cellar (albeit the non-conference one where there’s no conference standings to prove it).  Rebounding is the biggest of the Hokies’ weaknesses, as the team is 297th on the boards (31.2 per game).  Buzz Williams’ team is coming off a win over Alabama A&M, and has a few lighter tests in the immediate future, hosting The Citadel, VMI, and Presbyterian, before traveling to West Virginia in their final non-conference game.

College Football Power Rankings for Week 15

After championship weekend, the field is set for the inaugural College Football Playoff, with Alabama, Oregon, Florida State all staying in the top four, and Ohio State jumping TCU to get into the field.  But did the committee get the top four right?

1. Alabama (12-1, Last Week: 1st, CFP Rankings: 1st)
The Crimson Tide are clearly the top team in the nation, solidifying that with a 42-13 SEC Championship win over Missouri, and now prepare for the Sugar Bowl in a national semifinal against Ohio State.

2. Oregon (12-1, 2nd, 2nd)
Likely Heisman winner Marcus Mariota led the Ducks to a 51-13 win over Arizona, who was the only team to beat them all year.  Some have criticized the Ducks’ defense, as they are very offensive-based, and have wondered if that defense can hold up in the College Football Playoff, but the defense proved its worth in the win over the Wildcats, as the team now prepares to meet Florida State in the Rose Bowl, which will be the first ever national semifinal.

3. Florida State (13-0, 3rd, 3rd)
The Seminoles beat Georgia Tech in a back-and-forth contest, 37-35, to complete an undefeated regular season and earn their spot in the playoff.  While not all of their wins have been dominant, they’ve still won all their games, and with a win over Oregon and another in the national title game, they can become the first ever 15-win team in college football (the other playoff teams do not have this shot).

4. TCU (11-1, 4th, 6th) and
5. Ohio State (12-1, 6th, 4th)
TCU defeated 2-10 Iowa State, 55-3, while Ohio State won the Big Ten Championship Game over Wisconsin, 59-0, and the Buckeyes passed the Horned Frogs for the fourth and final spot in the playoff.  While I understand why Ohio State moved into the fourth spot, as they were extremely impressive in their shutout win over the Badgers, there is no way the committee can, in my mind, justify dropping TCU three spots in their rankings after a 52-point victory in a conference game in a “Power Five” league.  I understand the game was against a team that is winless in the Big 12, but the schedule really hurt the Horned Frogs, as it seems people looked at their final opponent and not their full body of work.  It is very possible that TCU (and Baylor) were hurt by the Big 12 not having a title game, as there was not “One True Champion” (even though that’s the Big 12’s slogan), and neither of the co-champions reached the bracket to try and win the league a national title.  Additionally, Ohio State has by far the worst loss out of the six playoff contenders, losing to Virginia Tech back in September.  While Ohio State now prepares to meet Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, TCU will face Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, part of the New Year’s Six.

6. Baylor (11-1, 5th, 5th)
Like TCU, Baylor was hurt by their league not producing a clear-cut, outright conference champion, although with their head-to-head win over TCU in October they did pass the Horned Frogs in the CFP rankings, moving into fifth, but still one spot short of the goal.  Baylor did all they could, beating a top ten opponent in Kansas State by a 38-27 score, but it still wasn’t enough.  The Bears won’t have to go too far for their bowl game, as they will play in the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State.

7. Michigan State (10-2, 7th, 8th)
The Spartans sat at home and watched as Ohio State took the Big Ten title, perhaps wondering what might have been had they beaten the Buckeyes on November 8.  They knew that, with no conference title game, they had no realistic shot at the playoff, even with a lot of help, and will now prepare for the Cotton Bowl against Baylor, a nice consolation for the only team with losses to two teams in the playoff.

8. Mississippi State (10-2, 10th, 7th)
The Bulldogs were in a similar situation to Michigan State, as they stayed home on championship weekend, and waited to see what New Year’s Six bowl they would be headed to.  As it turns out, they will head to the Orange Bowl to play ACC runner-up Georgia Tech.

9. Ole Miss (9-3, 14th, 9th)
The Rebels finished third in their own division, and were never really in the SEC West race after their second loss on November 1, yet with the strength of wins over Alabama and Mississippi State, they find themselves on the inside, not the outside, of the New Year’s Six set of bowl games.  They will play (arguably) the biggest playoff snub in the Peach Bowl when they meet TCU.

10. Georgia Tech (10-3, 11th, 12th)
The Yellow Jackets actually move up in these rankings after a loss, doing so after keeping their game with third-ranked Florida State very close, while others around them were the victims of one-sided scores in their respective conference championship games.  With ACC Champion Florida State making the playoff, the next highest ranked ACC team gets the ACC’s spot in the Orange Bowl, and that spot goes to the Jackets, as they will face Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve in Miami.

11. Arizona (10-3, 9th, 10th)
12. Kansas State (9-3, 13th, 11th)
13. Missouri (10-3, 12th, 16th)
14. Georgia (9-3, 15th, 13th)
15. UCLA (9-3, 16th, 14th)
16. Wisconsin (10-3, 8th, 18th)
17. Arizona State (9-3, 17th, 15th)
18. Clemson (9-3, 19th, 17th)
19. Auburn (8-4, 20th, 19th)
20. Louisville (9-3, 21st, 21st)
21. Boise State (10-2, 23rd, 20th)
22. Nebraska (9-3, 22nd, unranked)
23. USC (8-4, 24th, 24th)
24. LSU (8-4, 25th, 23rd)
25. Utah (8-4, unranked, 22nd)

Also ranked in CFP rankings: Minnesota (8-4, unranked, 25th)

Fell from rankings: Oklahoma (8-4, 18th, unranked)

My Heisman Ballot:
1. Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
2. Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
3. Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
These three are the three finalists for the award, although in my opinion TCU QB Trevone Boykin should have also been named a finalist (the number can be between three and five)

College Football Power Rankings for Week 14

(updated to include College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night)

After rivalry weekend, the field of likely contenders for the college football playoff is down to six, with Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss.  That being said, there are other teams who still have an outside shot, if three or more of the top six were to fall on championship weekend.

Before we look into the rankings, I’ll take this opportunity to say this: I really like the new playoff format.  Everyone knew the system from the BCS years needed an overhaul, and the powers that be came up with the four-team playoff idea.  While some will say the field is too small, and will clamor for an eight or 16 team field, I feel like four is just right, as the bracket is not too easy to get in to, and every single game still means so much.  At the same time, like the Wild Card rule in baseball, it keeps more teams in more parts of the country in the race until the very end.

The Six Contenders
These six teams are in the most control when it comes to earning a playoff berth.  While the top two should be able to simply win to get in, the next four could all make a case for the fourth spot with a win, as the fifth and sixth teams are playing a tougher opponent this week than third-ranked TCU.  That being said, Ohio State and Baylor are in positions where they just need a small amount of help to move into a “control their own destiny” position.

1. Alabama (11-1, Last Week: 1st, CFP Ranking: 1st)
The Crimson Tide dominated in the final quarter and a half to take the Iron Bowl over Auburn, 55-44, and clinched the SEC West title.  They now head to Atlanta to face Missouri for the SEC Championship, as they are now one win away from the inaugural College Football Playoff, and likely being the top seed as well.  The Tide have won seven straight since an October 4 loss to Ole Miss, their only blemish, including four wins over ranked opponents in that span.  By the statistics this team isn’t necessarily the best, but by the so-called “eye test”, there is little doubt in my mind they are.

2. Oregon (11-1, 3rd, 2nd)
The Ducks season story is similar to that of Alabama, as they recovered from a loss in earlier October, which was to Arizona, to run through conference play with seven straight wins, including strong wins over UCLA and Utah on the road, and convincingly beat rival Oregon State to ride a wave of momentum into the Pac-12 title game.  They additionally have a home win over Michigan State from way back on September 6.  However, the Ducks face a tougher test than Alabama does on Championship Weekend, as they will play a rematch against Arizona.  The last two seasons, Oregon is 0-2 against the Wildcats and 22-1 against everyone else.

3. Florida State (12-0, 2nd, 4th)
In what has seemingly become a weekly occurrence, the Seminoles survived a close game in an upset bid on Saturday, this time against rival Florida.  They have now won 28 straight games, dating back to their last loss, against Florida in 2012, but their average margin of victory, which last year set a record at 39.5, is just 12.6 points per game, and the margin of their last three victories is a combined 12 points.  They have trailed at some point in six straight games and in nine of their last 10, but as Herman Edwards once said, “You play to win the game!”, and they are still doing that.  This week, however, they will face arguably their toughest test of the year, as they play Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, as they have fallen to fourth in the CFP rankings and now sit on the playoff bubble.

4. TCU (10-1, 4th, 3rd)
TCU started the season on no one’s radar, as I said they were projected to finish at 8-4 in fourth in the Big 12.  Now, as the team has four wins over ranked opponents, their only blemish is a 61-58 loss to Baylor in a game they led by 21 in the fourth quarter, and they prepare to face Iowa State, who is winless in the Big 12 and 2-9 overall, in their final regular season test.  With Mississippi State, who had been fourth in the CFP rankings, losing to Ole Miss, the Horned Frogs jump into the top four in the rankings, also passing Florida State, although with the two teams behind them both playing top 15 competition this week, they will still have to defend their spot, which may mean (unfortunately) running the score up on the Cyclones.

5. Baylor (10-1, 6th, 6th)
Baylor has run through their Big 12 slate, with the exception of a road loss at West Virginia, and as mentioned beat TCU in their head-to-head meeting in a 61-58 thriller.  Texas Tech pushed the Bears to the limit this week, coming a two-point conversion short of potential overtime, as the Bears survived, 48-46.  The Bears have one more test this week when Kansas State comes to Waco, as they try to clinch the Big 12 title.  Their case for the playoff includes the argument that, since they beat TCU head-to-head, they should be ahead of TCU in the rankings.  However, the resume of the Bears is not quite as strong as that of TCU, although with a strong performance Saturday by the nation’s top scoring team, they can certainly make a case to change that.

6. Ohio State (11-1, 7th, 5th)
Since the second week of the season, the Buckeyes have been about as good as anyone, winning ten straight games, and scoring 42 or more eight times.  However, a September 6 loss to Virginia Tech is the biggest hole on their resume, and is easily the worst loss suffered by the teams in the top six.  In addition, this team is hard to rank after the loss of QB J.T. Barrett in the midst of their win over Michigan to a broken ankle, as no one really knows how strong they are with Cardale Jones under center (remember, he’s the third string QB, Barrett was Braxton Miller’s backup).  Road wins at Michigan State and Minnesota are the highlight of the Buckeyes schedule, and a Big Ten title game win over Wisconsin could as well if they beat the Badgers on Saturday.  However, sitting in this position, even with a potential win over Wisconsin, they will need some help from the opponents of the teams ahead of them.

The Long Shots
These teams are in a different position, as all of them need a win (if they have a game this weekend) and a lot of help if they want to reach the top four.  The good news for these teams is that the ones who are playing this weekend are all playing a team ranked above them, giving them an opportunity to make a statement and make up some ground with a win.  That being said, these teams’ playoff scenarios begin with at least three of the top six losing.

7. Michigan State (10-2, 8th, 8th)
It will be very hard for the Spartans to make the playoff, even with some help, as they don’t have a game this weekend to help them make their closing statement to the committee.  The Spartans can boast that the teams they’ve lost to, Oregon and Ohio State, are both in the group of six contenders, as they come off of their season finale win against Penn State.

8. Wisconsin (10-2, 11th, 13th)
The Badgers came from behind to beat Minnesota in the de facto title game in the Big Ten West, clinching their spot in Indianapolis for the conference championship against Ohio State.  After early season losses to LSU and Northwestern, the Badgers have been very impressive, particularly with their rushing attack which averages 334 yards per game, and with a sizeable win over Ohio State, may have an outside shot at the final four.

9. Arizona (10-2, 15th, 7th)
The Wildcats have one of the season’s signature wins, beating Oregon in Eugene, as well as a road win over Utah and a home win over rival Arizona State to win the Pac-12 South, even with good losses (if such a thing exists) to USC and UCLA.  The Wildcats have beaten Oregon twice in a row, and get another chance Friday in the Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara, CA.  Another upset of the Ducks could really put Rich Rodriguez’s program on the map, if not more.

10. Mississippi State (10-2, 5th, 10th)
The Bulldogs playoff hopes are likely over after they lost to rival Ole Miss, 31-17.  After ascending to the #1 ranking, losses in two out of their last three games have likely spelled doom for the Bulldogs, as they have no conference title game this week to prove themselves in, so it will be very likely to move back into the top four, even with a lot of help.  That being said, this has still been the school’s greatest season since 1999, and one of their best three ever.

11. Georgia Tech (10-2, 17th, 11th)
Both Georgia and Georgia Tech can say they should have won their rivalry game in regulation, but it was the Yellow Jackets who prevailed once the game went to overtime.  Beating the Bulldogs helps a resume that is somewhat weak otherwise, with their only other signature win coming against Clemson, and includes losses to North Carolina and Duke.  While those defeats will likely keep the Yellow Jackets out of the playoff discussion, you never know what could happen if they were to beat Florida State in a rematch of the 2012 ACC title game in which the Yellow Jackets nearly stunned the Seminoles.

12. Missouri (10-2, 18th, 16th)
The Tigers are coming off of a 21-14 win over Arkansas which clinched them the SEC East and a shot at Alabama in the SEC title game.  Their biggest issue is a resume lacking big wins, as both ranked opponents they have beaten have since fallen well out of the rankings, and no one the Tigers defeated has won more than eight games.  They also have a 34-0 loss to Georgia, as well as maybe the worst single loss out of all of the contenders, a 31-27 home loss to Indiana in September.  If the Tigers could stun Alabama, they would have the title of SEC champion, but they would need a massive amount of help to make the playoff.

13. Kansas State (9-2, 12th, 9th)
After blowing out rival Kansas 51-13, the Wildcats now face Baylor, and still have an outside shot at an outright Big 12 title with a win and a TCU loss.  That being said, for a shot at the playoff they need to blow out Baylor, to show their worth, and then get tons of help.  The Wildcats do have signature road wins against Oklahoma and West Virginia (and play Baylor on the road), and have no bad losses, falling to Auburn and TCU, but they don’t really have a playoff resume unless they have the title of conference champion.

The Best of the Rest
14. Ole Miss (9-3, 19th, 12th)
15. Georgia (9-3, 9th, 14th)
16. UCLA (9-3, 10th, 15th)
17. Arizona State (9-3, 13th, 17th)
18. Oklahoma (8-3, 20th, 20th)
19. Clemson (9-3, 22nd, 18th)
20. Auburn (8-4, 14th, 19th)
21. Louisville (9-3, 24th, 21st)
22. Nebraska (9-3, unranked, unranked)*
23. Boise State (10-2, unranked, 22nd)^
24. USC (8-4, unranked, 25th)
25. LSU (8-4, unranked, 24th)

Also ranked in CFP Rankings: Utah (8-4, unranked, 23rd)

Fell from Rankings: Marshall (11-1, 16th, unranked), Colorado State (10-2, 21st, unranked), Arkansas (6-6, 25th, unranked)

*Editor’s Note: Yes, the team I have ranked 22nd and the AP has ranked 25th is the same Nebraska team which just fired coach Bo Pelini.  I can’t ever remember a ranked team firing a coach for on-field performance (as opposed to a moral issue).
^Editor’s Note: Boise State is currently the leading “Group of Five” team, which would earn them a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 12/1

Two weeks and change into the college basketball season, the ACC has seen the good, the bad, the ugly, with the league as a whole picking up some very impressive wins, as well as some less than stellar losses.  Five undefeated teams remain in the league, heading into the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which starts tonight.

1. Duke (7-0, Previous Ranking: 1st)
The Blue Devils have been very impressive, and haven’t had to play a close game yet, even in games against Michigan State, Stanford, and Temple, all of which they won comfortably.  Freshman Jahlil Okafor is the real deal, averaging 17.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.  The Devils will be tested on Wednesday, traveling to 2nd-ranked Wisconsin.  Duke is fourth in the nation in both points and assists per game, and sits fourth in the AP Poll.

2. Louisville (5-0, 2nd)
The Cardinals have been strong, although the toughest team they’ve beaten since an opening night win over Minnesota in the Armed Forces Classic is Cleveland State.  That being said, the Cardinals are allowing just 46.6 points per game, good for third in the nation, and lead the nation in rebounding, as they have moved up to fifth in the AP Poll.  Their strength of schedule will improve the next two Tuesday nights, with a home game against Ohio State and a neutral-site game with Indiana at the Jimmy V Classic.

3. Virginia (7-0, 3rd)
Speaking of defense, the Cavaliers are leading the nation in points allowed, at just 43.6 per contest.  Virginia has not allowed more than 55 points in any game, and has allowed 42 or less in four of their seven games, although their toughest competition was La Salle and Rutgers in the Barclays Center Classic.  This week the seventh-ranked Cavaliers play a pair of rivalry games, playing Maryland in the first non-conference meeting between the two since 1952, and VCU, with both games on the road.

4. Miami (7-0, 10th)
The Hurricanes have been impressive, winning the Charleston Classic in addition to road wins at Florida and Charlotte.  The ‘Canes are 21st in the nation in shooting percentage, with a .504 clip, and after starting the season unranked, currently sit at 15th in the AP Poll.  Guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, both of whom transferred from Big 12 schools, have made a major impact, as the team prepares to face Illinois, who has also played their way into the top 25, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

5. North Carolina (5-1, 4th)
After a trio of easy wins, the Tar Heels took a trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and didn’t come back unblemished, as they lost a tight game to Butler, but also came back with a pair of wins over ranked opponents, convincingly beating UCLA and Florida.  The loss dropped the Tar Heels, who are in the top 14 in the nation in rebounds, assists, and blocks, to 12th in the AP Poll, as they prepare to face Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, with a December 13 trip to top-ranked Kentucky looming.

6. NC State (6-0, 7th)
While none of the Wolfpack’s wins so far have been overwhelming, in terms of the strength of their opponent, the team has won all their games, even showing early they know how to win close games, as they did against South Florida and Boise State.  They have one win over a possible NCAA tournament team, beating Richmond, as they head into a busy week with a trip to Purdue for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and an early conference game at home against Wake Forest.  The Pack are fourth nationally in rebounds per game but 316th (out of 351) in steals.

7. Syracuse (5-1, 5th)
The Orange only have one loss to their credit, falling to Cal by 14 in the 2K Sports Classic, and beat Iowa in that event’s third place game.  In their other four games, the Orange have taken care of business against mismatched opponents, winning the closest one by 18.  Syracuse sits in the top 28 nationally in each of the four major defensive stat categories, but has some work to do offensively if they want to compete in the ACC’s upper echelon as they did a year ago.  Before breaking for exams, the Orange travel to Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, before hosting St. John’s, a couple of games that will be true tests.

8. Notre Dame (6-1, 9th)
The Irish have played well in their early season slate of games, with their only loss coming to Providence by a single point in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, an event where they also earned a resume-building 13 point win over UMass.  Led by guard Jerian Grant, the Irish lead the nation in shooting percentage, making over 58% of their shots.  That shooting touch will be key as the Irish host Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge before a hosting a couple of lighter tests, then Florida State in an early conference game.

9. Pittsburgh (4-2, 8th)
Four of the Panthers’ six games have held to form, with three wins over light competition, and a loss to a strong San Diego State team.  In the other two, the Panthers blew out a Kansas State team that had nearly upset Arizona the night before at the Maui Invitational, and were upset by Hawaii.  As the Panthers prepare to travel to Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, they sit 199th in country in rebounding, and 286th or worse in three of the four major defensive categories.

10. Georgia Tech (5-1, 14th)
While the Yellow Jackets haven’t necessarily pulled any upsets in any of their five wins, they have looked fairly strong, highlighted by an 80-73 win over rival Georgia in their season opener.  In addition to that, they only lost by 2 to Marquette in the Orlando Classic, a strong showing against a traditional power.  No one on the team averages more points per game than Marcus Georges-Hunt at 12.0, but the team has four players averaging at least 10.2, showing a very balanced offensive attack. The 31st-ranked rebounding team in the nation will head to Northwestern for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge this week before hosting USC Upstate.

11. Florida State (3-3, 6th)
The Seminoles, who were projected in the preseason by many to be an NCAA Tournament team, have had a rough go of it since their opening night win over Manhattan.  They lost to Northeastern before dropping two more to Providence (who blew them out) and UMass at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.  They righted the ship in their most recent two games, beating The Citadel and Charleston Southern, as they prepare to host Nebraska tonight in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and UCF later in the week, with an early conference game at Notre Dame lurking next week.  The ‘Noles rank no higher than 79th in any major stat category, and rank 205th or worse in five of the eight major categories.

12. Wake Forest (4-3, 11th)
With the exception of a 30-point road loss at Arkansas, who has now jumped into the top 20, Wake hasn’t played a very tough schedule, and in some games against lighter competition have looked strong.  In others, against Iona and Delaware State, it’s been obvious this young team and first year coach Danny Manning has work to do.  Led by Devin Thomas, who is averaging a double-double, the team ranks ninth nationally in rebounds, a stat that really plagued them during the Jeff Bzdelik era, but 201st in field goal percentage.  The schedule gets tougher this week, with the Deacs hosting Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, then traveling to NC State for a December conference game, which they don’t seem ready for.

13. Boston College (2-3, 12th)
Other than an expected win over New Hampshire and an upset of New Mexico, the Eagles have struggled, although it has been against a tough schedule, as they have lost to UMass, West Virginia, and Dayton.  Statistically, the Eagles are incredibly average, not ranking higher than 140th or lower than 257th in any stat category other than points per game, where they are 285th.  The Eagles are the one team not participating in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and instead they are hosting Marist tonight, before hosting rival Providence on Friday.

14. Clemson (4-2, 14th)
Defensively, the Tigers are, as usual, very decent, allowing 60.0 points per game, and ranking 43rd in the nation in blocks with 5.3 per game.  Offensively, the Tigers are lacking after losing their leading scorer from last season KJ McDaniels.  Other than a big win over Florida A&M, every game has been close, with the Tigers earning a quality win over LSU, but losing to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb.  The Tigers face Rutgers in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge before hosting back-to-back SEC opponents in Arkansas and Auburn.

15. Virginia Tech (4-2, 15th)
While the Hokies have picked up four wins, the best teams they have beaten are Liberty and Miami (OH), so they don’t really have any quality wins.  In addition to that, while a loss to Northern Iowa was expected, the game wasn’t close, and the Hokies also lost to Appalachian State.  Buzz Williams has a young team, and they are shooting the ball well, as they are 14th in the country (.514), but they aren’t rebounding well, ranking 293rd with just 31.3 per game.

ACC-Big Ten Challenge Prediction: Big Ten 8, ACC 6