18. South Florida (4-0, LW: 19th, AP: 18th)
24. NC State (3-1, LW: unranked, AP: unranked)
Mayfield, Oklahoma top Ohio State
A year after Ohio State beat Oklahoma in Norman, the Sooners returned the favor in Columbus with a 31-16 victory over the Buckeyes.
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield led the Sooners to 28 second-half points, going 27-35 for the game with three touchdowns. His Ohio State counterpart J.T. Barrett completed just 19 of his 35 attempts with an interception. Mayfield outpassed Barrett 386 yards to 183.
The Sooners also controlled the ball well, possessing it for 35:17. The result, despite a 3-3 halftime tie and a 17-13 game through three quarters, was a convincing Oklahoma win that moved them to second in the AP Poll.
Clemson defense stifles Auburn
In a battle of Tigers, Clemson’s offense totaled just 284 yards, but that was enough to beat Auburn 14-6 after an incredible defensive effort by the Tigers in orange and purple.
Clemson held Auburn to 117 total yards, including just 38 rushing yards in 42 attempts. While Clemson’s own offense didn’t have their best night (284 yards), and while Clemson had two turnovers against none by Auburn, Clemson made enough plays to win–they were 9-for-16 on third down, and got two rushing touchdowns from QB Kelly Bryant, while Auburn’s failure to get touchdowns on two first-half red zone trips came back to haunt them.
Auburn was unable to return the favor for a 2011 loss at Clemson–their first as defending national champions–and their 2016 loss to Clemson in Auburn; Clemson passed their first big test in their title defense.
USC races past Stanford
USC dominated Stanford in every statistical category–the Trojans outgained the Cardinal 623-342, outpassed them 316-172, outrushed them 307-170, and had 28 first downs to Stanford’s 16–on their way to a 42-24 win.
Several Trojans had huge nights: QB Sam Darnold was 21-26 for 316 yards and four touchdowns, with nine of those receptions for 121 yards on connections with Deontay Burnett, who scored twice, while Stephen Carr rushed for 119 yards on just 11 carries and Ronald Jones II ran for 116 with two touchdowns on 23 attempts.
If not for two pro-Cardinal factors, Stanford may have lost by more than 18. Darnold did throw two interceptions–the only knock on an otherwise excellent game by the early-season Heisman candidate–and Bryce Love ran for 160 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
A week after struggling to top Western Michigan, the Trojans reasserted themselves as Pac-12 favorites by this commanding win over Stanford, who was coming off a 62-7 win over Rice in their opener.
Late turnover dooms Irish in slugfest
Neither team was particularly awe-inspiring in the first regular-season meeting between traditional powers Georgia and Notre Dame, but a late fumble recovery by the Bulldogs sealed a 20-19 win in South Bend.
It was a sloppy game by all accounts–the teams were a combined 7-35 on third down, totaled 20 penalties for 189 yards, and committed two turnovers each. Irish QB Brandon Wimbush was 19-39 for 211 yards and rushed for the team’s only touchdown, as the Irish rushed for just 55 while settling for four field goals. Georgia managed just 141 yards in the air, but 185 rushing yards helped lead them to the win.
After a back-and-forth game, Georgia took the lead with 3:39 left on a go-ahead field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship, a former walk-on who was just placed on scholarship this past week, before the fumble with 1:27 to play clinched the Georgia victory.
Hurricane Irma alters schedule
While the sports impact is a minor detail of Hurricane Irma, given its sheer magnitude and its impact on Florida and the southeast, the storm has affected college football’s schedule for both Week Two and Week Three.
Games in the state of Florida that were cancelled over the weekend include Memphis at Central Florida, Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State and Northern Colorado at Florida. Miami’s game at Arkansas State and South Florida’s game at Connecticut were also cancelled due to travel concerns. None of these games are expected to be made up (all are non-conference games except South Florida-Connecticut).
The Miami at Florida State game scheduled for this weekend has been postponed to Oct. 7, which was originally an open week for both teams. As a result, Miami’s game against Georgia Tech that was originally scheduled for the following Thursday (Oct. 12) has been moved to Oct. 14.
1. Alabama (2-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 1st)
After QB Jalen Hurts rushed for 154 yards in a 41-10 win over Fresno State, the Tide will face Colorado State; the Rams should be one of the best non-Power Five teams this season, but don’t expect them to be competitive in Tuscaloosa.
2. Oklahoma (2-0, LW: 6th, AP: 2nd)
The Sooners have the most impressive win so far after their convincing win at Ohio State. They begin a stretch of three ranked opponents in four games on October 21, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t enter that stretch at 6-0.
3. USC (2-0, LW: 4th, AP: 4th)
The win over Stanford was a defensive improvement for the Trojans, who had looked sluggish against Western Michigan. While they’ll be heavy favorites in the coming weeks, the next three teams they face can each score a lot of points if that defense doesn’t continue improving.
4. Penn State (2-0, LW: 3rd, AP: 5th)
The Nittany Lions avenged last year’s loss to Pittsburgh with a 33-14 win. Looking ahead, their two biggest games (and the only two they won’t be favored in) are back-to-back, against Michigan and Ohio State the last two weekends in October.
5. Oklahoma State (2-0, LW: 5th, AP: 9th)
A 44-7 win at South Alabama isn’t impressive on paper, but give the Cowboys credit for agreeing to play the Jaguars, who were hosting their biggest home game ever, on the road. This week they travel to Pittsburgh, who they beat last year in a 45-38 track meet.
6. Clemson (2-0, LW: 9th, AP: 3rd)
I still have questions about Clemson’s offense, but they answered a lot of questions about their defense in holding Auburn to 117 yards. That said, the defense isn’t out of the woods–this week the Tigers travel to Louisville and face defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.
7. Michigan (2-0, LW: 7th, AP: 7th)
On one hand, the Wolverines looked unconvincing at times against Cincinnati, even in a 36-14 win. On the other hand, they have two games they should win easily and a bye week before facing Michigan State on Oct. 7.
8. Washington (2-0, LW: 12th, AP: 6th)
The Huskies have been quietly solid, outscoring their first two opponents 93-21, although their toughest opponent so far was Rutgers. This week they finish their non-conference slate with Fresno State, before a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch with Colorado to open league play.
9. Wisconsin (2-0, LW: 11th, AP: 10th)
The Badgers, who beat Florida Atlantic 31-14 over the weekend and travel to BYU this weekend, have the easiest schedule of any top 10 team–they will face one team that is currently ranked the entire season (Nov. 18 vs. Michigan).
10. Florida State (0-1, LW: 10th, AP: 11th)
Hurricane Irma has compromised the Seminoles’ schedule; they will resume play Sep. 23 against N.C. State after a 21-day layoff.
Worth a Mention: Duke (2-0)
Northwestern was ranked 23rd in these rankings last week, reason being that they were an experienced team from a Power Five league that I thought could be a sleeper in the Big Ten West. Then they met Duke: the Blue Devils outgained the Wildcats a staggering 538-191, held the Wildcats to 22 rushing yards, and gained 34 first downs to Northwestern’s 15 while possessing the ball for 41:18. I don’t have the Blue Devils ranked, but I’m surprised they didn’t get any AP Poll votes (they did get three votes in the Coaches’ Poll).
11. Ohio State (1-1, LW: 2nd, AP: 8th)
12. Georgia (2-0, LW: 13th, AP: 13th)
13. Auburn (1-1, LW: 8th, AP: 15th)
14. Miami (1-0, LW: 14th, AP: 17th)
15. LSU (2-0, LW: 16th, AP: 12th)
16. Kansas State (2-0, LW: 17th, AP: 18th)
17. Virginia Tech (2-0, LW: 18th, AP: 16th)
18. Utah (2-0, LW: 20th, AP: unranked)
19. Florida (0-1, LW: 19th, AP: 24th)
20. Stanford (1-1, LW: 15th, AP: 19th)
21. Louisville (2-0, LW: 21st, AP: 14th)
22. South Florida (2-0, LW: 22nd, AP: 22nd)
23. Tennessee (2-0, LW: 24th, AP: 23rd)
24. UCLA (2-0, LW: 25th, AP: 25th)
25. TCU (2-0, LW: unranked, AP: 20th)
Also Ranked in AP Poll: Washington State (2-0, AP: 21st)
Fell from Rankings: Northwestern (1-1, LW: 23rd)
Game of the Week and Upset of the Week
#9 UCLA (3-0) at #16 Arizona (3-0)
Saturday, 8:00 pm ET, ABC
Favorite: UCLA by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking: UCLA- 12th, Arizona- 15th
Arizona 38, UCLA 31… In UCLA win vs BYU last wk QB Rosen took a hit stat-wise; Zona QB Solomon and should shine in first big gm of soph yr
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
Big Game Guarantee(s)
#22 BYU (2-1) at Michigan (2-1)
Saturday, 12:00 pm ET, ABC
Favorite: Michigan by 5
Stiles on Sports Ranking: BYU- 24th, Michigan-unranked
Mich 27, BYU 20… First ranked opp for Mich in Harbaugh era, BYU with 2 miracle wins and a close loss, Mich quietly impressive in last 2 wins
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
Tennessee (2-1) at Florida (3-0)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, CBS
Stiles on Sports Ranking: both teams are unranked
Tenn 27, Fla 14… Big gm for both programs to see where they’re at; Fla off may struggle vs Tenn def; Vols have lost 10 straight in series
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
#18 Utah (3-0) at #13 Oregon (2-1)
Saturday, 8:30 pm ET, FOX
Favorite: Oregon by 12
Stiles on Sports Ranking: Utah- 25th, Oregon- 10th
Oreg 38, Utah 21… Potential elim game for Oreg’s playoff hopes; matchup of 2 great RB’s in Freeman vs Booker; Utah good but overmatched
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
#19 USC (2-1) at Arizona State (2-1)
Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, ESPN
Favorite: USC by 5
Stiles on Sports Ranking: USC- 17th, Arizona State- unranked
USC 38, Ariz St 28… USC coming off upset by Stanford, and remember the last time @ ASU, a 62-41 rout that resulted in Lane Kiffin’s firing
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
Closer Than the Experts Think
UCF (0-3) at South Carolina (1-2)
Saturday, 12:30 pm ET, ESPNU
Favorite: South Carolina by 15
Stiles on Sports Ranking: both teams are unranked
SC 20, UCF 14… SC is fav by 15, but Gamecocks have proven any wins this yr won’t be easy; UCF upset by Furman last wk
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
Western Michigan (1-2) at #1 Ohio State (3-0)
Saturday, 3:30 pm ET, ABC/ESPN2
Favorite: Ohio State by 31
Stiles on Sports Ranking: Western Michigan- unranked, Ohio State- 1st
Ohio St 31, W Mich 10… Bucks fav by 32 but have struggled some vs should-be inferior opp, and WMU played Mich St very well in opener
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
NFL Game of the Week
Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) at Green Bay Packers (2-0)
Monday, 8:15 pm ET, ESPN
Favorite: Packers by 7
GB 28, KC 20… GB coming off win vs SEA, KC coming off heartbreaker vs DEN; KC will have good yr but GB is best team in NFC, maybe entire NFL
— Chris Stiles (@cstiles24) September 24, 2015
Season to Date
Overall Record: 13-7
Last Week: 4-3
College Overall Record: 12-6
Game of the Week: 2-1
Big Game Guarantee: 8-1
Upset of the Week: 0-3
Closer Than the Experts Think: 2-1
NFL Game of the Week: 1-1
Game of the Week: #16 Clemson at #12 Georgia
Georgia is a 7.5-point favorite in their opener, in a rematch of last year’s 38-35 Clemson win in Death Valley. This year the game is in Athens, which should give the Bulldogs a home-field advantage. Georgia will be led by RB Todd Gurley, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards a year ago despite missing multiple games with injury. He will be going up against a tough defensive front led by DE Vic Beasley, but expect one of the best backs in the country to have a good showing. Under center, this game features a battle of two QBs taking over for tenured starters. Hutson Mason got a couple of starts a year ago for Georgia after Aaron Murray’s injury, including the Gator Bowl against Nebraska, which gives him the slight edge over Cole Stoudt, who is making his first career start in a tough environment after garbage time duty last year under Tajh Boyd. Georgia is the slightly better team, and playing at home should be able to make a statement.
Georgia 31, Clemson 24.
Big Game Guarantee: #21 Texas A&M at #9 South Carolina
As has become custom over the last few years, South Carolina is part of the action on the opening Thursday night. South Carolina hasn’t lost an opener since 2000, hasn’t lost an opener at home since 1994, and hasn’t lost one under Steve Spurrier, and Spurrier is 23-1 all-time in openers, with his only loss to, ironically, South Carolina in 1989 while he was at Florida. The game marks the first game for of the Kenny Hill era at QB for the Aggies, who takes over after Johnny Manziel left for the NFL, and he travels into a hostile situation in Columbia to face a good Gamecocks defense. The A&M defense is not very good, after losing talent from a defense that gave up 28 or more in every conference game last year, and gave up 40+ points four times. That defense will face QB Dylan Thompson, who inherits the program from the graduated Connor Shaw after starting occasionally for the last two years during Shaw injuries, and RB Mike Davis, who is probably the second best back in the SEC. The Gamecocks are favored by 10, and I expect them to cover the spread.
South Carolina 35, Texas A&M 21.
Another Big Game Guarantee: #14 Wisconsin vs #13 LSU
The Advocare Texas Kickoff in Houston features two fairly even teams, both coming off good but not great seasons. Wisconsin lost four games last year, including the Capital One Bowl to South Carolina, while LSU lost three, to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama (all on the road), and won the Outback Bowl. This is the fourth time in five years the Tigers have opened the year with a “kickoff game” at a neutral site, and the third time in four years it has been in Texas (they’ve lost only one of the previous games). LSU’s offense completely changed gears last year under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, although the Tigers lost QB Zach Mettenberger to graduation and have not named a starter. Neither have the Badgers, and there is a potential we will see four quarterbacks play in this game. The Badgers, though, will lean on RB Melvin Gordon, while LSU’s Leonard Fournette will make his collegiate debut after a sensational high school career, and is one of three RBs (Terrence McGee, Kenny Hilliard) who should see significant carries for the Tigers. All-time, the SEC is 80-54-2 against the Big Ten, and LSU is just slightly the better team, so they should win a close game, and they are 5-point favorites.
LSU 24, Wisconsin 17.
Another Big Game Guarantee: Boise State vs #18 Ole Miss
Ole Miss is a 10-point favorite in this game tonight, being held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, at a “neutral site” is anything but, as Ole Miss is expected to bring a large crowd from Oxford while Boise State travels across the country. The Broncos have lost coach Chris Petersen, who left to coach at Washington, and has been replaced by Bryan Harsin. Boise State is a well-recognized name due to recent success, but the last couple of years since the Kellen Moore days they haven’t been top 10 material. Ole Miss, on the other hand, is a program on the rise and could be a sleeper in the loaded SEC West. QB Bo Wallace has a shot at breaking some of Eli Manning’s school passing records this season, and the Rebel defense has one returning All-American (safety Cody Prewitt), and multiple potential All-American-type players returning for this year. Boise State is 6-2 against ranked teams since 2009, but here they’re just overmatched.
Ole Miss 27, Boise State 13.
Upset of the Week: Penn State vs UCF
This will be the first game of the day on Saturday, as it is in Dublin, Ireland and will be played at 8:30 ET on Saturday morning. James Franklin takes over as Penn State coach after Bill O’Brien’s departure for the NFL, and has a good set of players to work with, despite the NCAA sanctions still hovering over the program after the Sandusky scandal. Among these is QB Christian Hackenburg, who threw for 20 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards a year ago as a freshman. He is a year older now, although he will be facing a strong UCF defense that ranked 17th nationally last year as a very young group. The question for the Knights is on offense, where they lost QB Blake Bortles to the NFL. No one knows how Justin Holman will play, and he certainly has very big shoes to fill, stepping in for one of the best QBs in the nation a year ago. UCF is favored by 2, but I expect Penn State to come out strong in Franklin’s debut and beat the defending Fiesta Bowl champion Knights.
Penn State 20, UCF 16.
College football season has come to a close, and with it, the BCS era has come to a close as well. Florida State certainly didn’t go wire-to-wire as #1, as they weren’t #1 until after Alabama’s loss to Auburn on November 30. But they were in the hunt all season long, through a great season of unbelievable games, jaw-dropping plays, and unforgettable players. Through all of that, a handful of teams proved they are above the rest, and are listed here as a list of the top 10 teams of the 2013 season. I’ve also added my picks for the best player, coach(es), and game of the year.
1. Florida State (14-0)
The Seminoles are national champions for the 3rd time, and for the 2nd time of the BCS era, after beating Auburn 34-31 in the Vizio BCS National Championship Game. We usually talk about runs in basketball, but rarely use the term in football. That being said, the Seminoles closed the game on a 31-10 run after trailing 21-3 in the first half. Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who was the 3rd Florida State player to win the award, was a major part of the comeback, including a near-perfect final drive down the field to score the winning touchdown with :13 remaining. The Seminoles were in the title conversation all year, and with a little help along the way from losses by teams like Alabama, Oregon, and Stanford, reached the title game and validated a perfect season, ending any concern about their weak strength of schedule in the ACC. The ‘Noles end the SEC’s 7-year streak of titles, and bring the ACC their first title since 1999, the last time the ‘Noles won. FSU should remain #1 in the 2014 preseason poll, as a lot of the major pieces on this team are coming back, and the ones that aren’t currently have players behind them who are more than capable of starting on a top-tier team.
2. Auburn (12-2)
The Tigers lost the Vizio BCS National Championship Game, 34-31, after leading 21-3 late in the 2nd quarter. If it’s any consolation for the Tigers, they lost one of the best title games of the BCS era, among the ranks of the 2002 Ohio State-Miami title game and the 2005 USC-Texas title game. And all of this was from a team that finished 3-9 a year ago and received no votes in the preseason AP Poll. They were, as they have been called, a “team of destiny”, with magical wins coming against Mississippi State, Georgia, and Alabama. Gus Malzahn did all this in his first year as head coach, after being the offensive coordinator for the 2010 National Championship team at Auburn. While Auburn will lose RB Tre Mason, who declared for the NFL Draft on Thursday, most of the rest of their team will be back next year, meaning they will remain a formidable opponent for the rest of the SEC.
3. Michigan State (13-1)
Michigan State had one of the most successful seasons in school history, and if it weren’t for an early loss to Notre Dame in September, it could have been even better. That 17-13 defeat is the only loss of their season, and after that they won every Big Ten conference game, including the championship game against Ohio State, by double digits. That led them to the Rose Bowl, where they were 7-point underdogs, but defeated Stanford 24-20 in a battle of two of the top defenses in the nation. The Spartans beat 4 ranked teams on the year, including teams ranked 2nd and 5th at the time the games were played in their last 2 contests. QB Connor Cook and most of the rest of the offense will be back next year, although some pieces of that defense will be lost to graduation or the NFL Draft. However, the coaching carousel has slowed down, and Pat Narduzzi, despite being a hot name, is still in East Lansing as defensive coordinator. Having Narduzzi around at least one more year is a win for the Spartans.
4. Oklahoma (11-2)
All season long, I had thought Oklahoma was overrated by both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll, and hadn’t given them much credit in these rankings. Even after they beat Oklahoma State on December 7, I still didn’t have them ranked in the top 10 (then again, the polls didn’t either). Then they led the entire game and beat Alabama, 45-31, in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, in QB Trevor Knight’s breakout performance, leading me to believe in the Sooners as an elite team, even though they did have bad losses to Texas and Baylor. The original purpose of these power rankings was to show who was playing the best right now, although they turned into a list of who has had the best season. Therefore, getting back to the original purpose, Oklahoma is definitely playing as well as just about anybody, with wins against the 6th and 3rd ranked teams in the BCS rankings in their last 2 games. Oklahoma may have the most players out of the top-tier teams who are coming back next year, and I fully expect them to be in national title contention as we enter into the new College Football Playoff era.
5. Alabama (11-2)
For so much of the season, Alabama was #1 in both major polls and the BCS rankings, as well as these rankings. They were 11-0, with big wins over Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and LSU on their résumé, and had seemingly dominated all their competition. Then came the Iron Bowl, where the so-called “Kick Six” gave Auburn a 34-28 win, and ended Alabama’s chances of their 3rd straight national title. For all intents and purposes, that was a freak play that could have happened to anyone. Then came the loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, 45-31. The Tide were within 7 with the ball with a minute left, but QB AJ McCarron was stripped of the ball, allowing the Sooners to walk in for another touchdown. I still believe the Tide to be one of the best 5 teams in the nation, although the AP Poll has them at 7th, and the Coaches Poll has them at 8th. Then again, anytime a team loses consecutive games, it kills their poll numbers. Most programs would be thrilled with a top 8 finish in both polls, and an 11-win season. But this is Alabama, who was trying for 3 titles in a row, and 4 out of 5, so this season surely leaves fans with the feeling of a letdown.
6. South Carolina (11-2)
The Gamecocks of South Carolina finished 4th in the AP Poll, their highest finish ever, after defeating Wisconsin, 34-24, in the Capital One Bowl. They are the highest ranked team in both the AP Poll and in these rankings that did not play in a BCS bowl game. However, I don’t have them that high for a couple of reasons. First of all, I see no way that South Carolina is a better team than Alabama. Second of all, some of these teams near the top with 2 losses had their losses to other ranked teams, or at least decent unranked teams, but one of the Gamecocks’ losses was to Tennessee. That being said, they are still ahead of Missouri due to their head-to-head win over the Tigers. They also got a win in September that, at the time, seemed somewhat irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but now is large in looking at their campaign; that win was over UCF. Gamecock fans have to wonder where their season would have gone without the loss to Tennessee, as they would have won the SEC East, and had the opportunity to play Auburn. If they had found a way to upset Auburn, they would have possibly slipped into the national title game. The Gamecocks had never won 11 games in back-to-back years before last year, so obviously this is the first time in school history they have had 3 consecutive 11-win seasons.
7. Missouri (12-2)
Missouri is also thinking what might have been. Theoretically, if they could have held Auburn to 41 points, they would have won the SEC and may have played for the national title (since they scored 42). As is, they went to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, where they beat Oklahoma State, 41-31, in a game that was closer than the score would indicate. Other than the Auburn loss, their only other loss was in double overtime to South Carolina, in a game they led 17-0 at the start of the 4th quarter. However, their 5th place finish in the AP Poll ties their 2nd best in school history, and it comes after last year’s 5-7 record in their inaugural SEC campaign. If anyone was skeptical whether or not Missouri could compete in the SEC, I think the Tigers answered that question easily this year.
8. Clemson (11-2)
Clemson won the Discover Orange Bowl, 40-35, after a back and forth battle with Ohio State, winning their first BCS bowl game and securing back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time. As coach Dabo Swinney mentioned after their bowl win, since Clemson’s 37-point loss in the Orange Bowl 2 years ago, they are 22-4, including bowl wins over LSU and Ohio State. Interestingly enough, the 4 losses are to the same 2 programs, as they have lost to Florida State and South Carolina in each of the last 2 seasons. Their 8th place ranking in the AP Poll matches their 3rd highest in program history. This season was, in fact, bookended with wins over top 10 opponents, after it began with a home win against Georgia. That home-and-home series continues to start the 2014 campaign, in a matchup I’m looking forward to already when the Tigers go “between the hedges” in Athens.
9. UCF (12-1)
To say that Central Florida had their best season in school history is an understatement. This program has only been an FBS member since 1996, and this was only the 4th time they’ve won 10 games or more in a season. It was, in fact, their first ever 12-win season, with their only loss coming to a team ranked higher than them, South Carolina. Their season really took off when they beat then 8th ranked Louisville, 38-35, on a nationally televised Friday night game. After winning out to win the American Athletic Conference, the Knights went to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, where they were 17-point underdogs to Baylor’s offensive attack, but pulled the upset, 52-42, and actually beat Baylor worse than the score would indicate. Since star QB Blake Bortles is leaving early for the NFL, I don’t expect UCF to be a top 10 team again next year, but I do expect them to be competitive in the AAC, and possibly hover in the top 25. Coach George O’Leary, however, has proven doubters wrong for his entire tenure in Orlando, so don’t expect that to stop.
10. Stanford (11-3)
It was tough to put Stanford this low, since they were certainly among the upper echelon of teams all year long. However, they did lose 3 games on the year, including regular season losses to unranked Utah and USC teams. Also, all the teams who jumped them won their bowl game, and Stanford did not, losing the Rose Bowl to Michigan State, 24-20. The Cardinal actually played well in Pasadena, but couldn’t convert on a key 4th down late in the 4th quarter, costing them a chance to go down the field and win the game. Stanford can’t hang their head, however, after winning the Pac-12 for the 2nd consecutive year, and appearing in a BCS bowl for the 4th straight season. All of this has happened in a program that was the laughing stock of the Pac-12 in recent memory. Coach David Shaw has stayed out of the coaching carousel, despite rumors about big-time college jobs or an NFL job, and appears committed to Stanford for the long run.
Also Considered: Oregon (11-2), Ohio State (12-2), Baylor (11-2), Louisville (12-1), LSU (10-3), UCLA (10-3), Oklahoma State (10-3)
Fell From Rankings: Baylor (11-2, lost to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42), Ohio State (12-2, lost to Clemson in Orange Bowl, 40-35)
Player of the Year: Florida State QB Jameis Winston
While Winston may not be my favorite player in the country, due to his off-field issues (yes, I do realize he was cleared, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him), his on-field excellence simply can’t be denied. It was Winston who, during a rare bad game, drove the Seminoles all the way down the field in the final minute to score the championship-winning touchdown. He completed nearly 67% of his passes for 4,057 yards and 10.6 yards per attempt, leading to the Heisman Trophy. And his stats might have been better if some of Florida State’s games had been closer, since he didn’t play many 4th quarters since so many Seminole games were blowouts. As a redshirt freshman, he’ll be back next year, which is a scary thought for the rest of the ACC.
Also Considered: Alabama QB AJ McCarron, Auburn RB Tre Mason, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch
Co-Coaches of the Year: Gus Malzahn (Auburn), David Cutcliffe (Duke), and George O’Leary (UCF)
I couldn’t pick one coach, because the accomplishments of all 3 of these outstanding men are phenomenal. Malzahn took over an Auburn team that was 3-9 last year, with a 0-8 record in conference play, and led them to an SEC title and a berth in the national title game, which they came very close to winning. Before Cutcliffe took over at Duke in 2008, the Blue Devils had won a total of 4 games in 4 years, and were the butt of a lot of jokes in college football. It took time, but he has turned Duke into a legitimate contender in the ACC, and this year they won the Coastal Division title for the first time ever. O’Leary has a bit of a troubled past, and got a second chance when UCF hired him before the 2004 season. He’s taken a young program to 6 bowl games in 10 years, and this year won 12 games including a BCS bowl game, shocking the nation twice during the season with wins over Louisville and Baylor (in the bowl game). All 3 coaches are terrific coaches, and excellent fits at their respective schools.
Also Considered: Art Briles (Baylor), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State)
Game of the Year: The “Iron Bowl”, Auburn 34, Alabama 28.
Enough said. But then again, everybody remembers the “Kick Six” on the game’s final play, but Auburn was behind in the final minute before scoring on a Nick Marshall pass to Sammie Coates with :32 seconds left. Regulation had appeared over before a review put a second back on the clock and Alabama tried the most famous missed field goal in the history of college football. The play we’ve all seen like 1,867,249 times.
Also considered: Georgia at Auburn (the “Immaculate Deflection”, Auburn wins 43-38), South Carolina at Missouri (South Carolina wins in double overtime on a Missouri missed field goal after being down 17), Duke vs Texas A&M (A&M wins 52-48 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl), Florida State vs Auburn (Florida State wins 34-31 after being down 18 and scoring with :13 left), Ohio State at Michigan (Buckeyes win 42-41 after Michigan fails to convert 2-point conversion)
The Bowl Championship Series, shortened by many to be called the BCS, will bid farewell to the wonderful world of college football this year. While this may not be the greatest set of 5 games the BCS has produced, there are still some intriguing matchups in this year’s edition, particularly in the National Championship Game and the Rose Bowl. All of these teams have had fantastic years on the gridiron, and are rewarded for their fine work by participating in the most unique postseason system in all of sports, although all that changes next year with the College Football Playoff. But let’s not get overly sentimental as the BCS bids farewell, since seemingly everybody seems to be able to think of a season in which somebody didn’t get the bid they deserved under this system. Then again, the topic of BCS snubs is certainly another story for another day.
Game of the Week: Vizio BCS National Championship, #1 Florida State (13-0) vs #2 Auburn (12-1)
Florida State is an 8-point favorite in the final BCS National Championship Game, taking on a “team of destiny” in Auburn. Many look at Auburn’s incredible rushing game and their multiple miracles this year as reasons they will take home the crystal ball when these teams meet Monday in Pasadena, but I am going to look more at why I think Florida State will lose. QB Jameis Winston has had an outstanding season, and was rewarded with the Heisman Trophy. However, Heisman winners are 3-6 in national title games under the BCS format, and Heisman winning quarterbacks have an even worse mark at 2-5. Florida State’s schedule was just the 66th toughest in the nation, the worst for any team ever to reach the BCS title game. The next 3 worst, which were Ohio State in 2006 and 2007 and Texas in 2009, all lost to SEC opponents by 27, 14, and 16, respectively. This is the 4th time an undefeated team has played a 1-loss team in the national championship. The previous undefeated teams were Ohio State in 2006, LSU in 2011, and Notre Dame in 2012, and they all lost to the 1-loss team, which each time was from the SEC, by 27, 21, and 28, respectively. Looking at Auburn, this is the 7th ranked team they have played, and the 4th in a row. While they did lose to LSU back in September, this is not the same team now, as they have improved week-by-week. This is the 5th ranked opponent for the Seminoles, although the caliber of the ranked opponents isn’t quite the same. It’s tough to pick against a Florida State team that hasn’t really been threatened by anyone, but with this look at history and the seemingly destined path of Auburn to this championship opportunity, it would be even tougher to pick against the Tigers. I do believe the game will be closer than the historical games I referenced above.
Auburn 38, Florida State 31.
Big Game Guarantee: Allstate Sugar Bowl, #3 Alabama (11-1) vs #11 Oklahoma (10-2)
Alabama will be a 16-point favorite in a very maroon Superdome on Thursday night when they take on an Oklahoma team that got into the BCS at the last minute when they beat Oklahoma State. That game was one of 3 wins for the Sooners over ranked opponents, but the other 2 came against teams who are no longer ranked. They also had losses against Baylor and Texas in games that were not close, and while Baylor is joining the Sooners in the BCS, the Longhorns win over the Sooners was pretty much their only high point in a season that ended in Mack Brown’s resignation. Oklahoma won their last BCS appearance, but before that had lost 5 in a row. Alabama actually has the same 3-1 record against ranked opponents as the Sooners do, but they beat better quality opponents and lost to Auburn, who is playing for the national championship. Alabama has won 4 straight bowl games, with 3 of those wins coming in the BCS title game. It’s the other of those 4, however, that I’m looking at in analyzing this matchup. The Tide came into the 2011 Capital One Bowl in a very similar situation to this Sugar Bowl, in a potential letdown game after losing national title chances over the last month of the season. In Orlando, on that occasion, the Tide beat a good Michigan State team, 49-7, ending talk of a letdown game. Then again, the last time the Crimson Tide played in the Sugar Bowl, in 2009, they lost to Utah, also under very similar circumstances. However, Nick Saban has told his players not to let the Auburn loss get them down so much that it causes them to lose this one too. Oklahoma has lost their last 3 bowl games against the SEC, including their last Sugar Bowl trip in 2004.
Alabama 42, Oklahoma 24.
Upset of the Week: The 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, #5 Stanford (11-2) vs #4 Michigan State (12-1)
The last time these two programs met was in the 1996 Sun Bowl, when Stanford won 38-0. There may not be 38 points, total, in this Rose Bowl matchup between two teams whose strengths are their defenses and running games. These programs met 4 times between 1955 and 1962, with Michigan State winning 3 of the 4, but that Sun Bowl is the only meeting since before today. Stanford is favored by 7, perhaps due to their familiarity with the Rose Bowl, after beating Wisconsin 20-14 in last year’s edition, and the BCS, as this is their 3rd straight BCS bowl. This is Stanford’s 8th matchup with a ranked opponent, and they have won each of the previous 7, including 3 games against top 11 opponents, although they also added losses to Utah and USC. Michigan State is making their first ever BCS appearance, and their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988, after upsetting Ohio State to win the Big Ten Championship Game. The Spartans are leading the nation in total defense, and have allowed the 4th least points, at just 12.7 per game. Their only loss of the season was at Notre Dame, 17-13, in a game with some controversial calls against the Spartans. They have not only won the rest of their games, but have won all their games by double digits, including each of their Big Ten conference games and the Big Ten Championship against the Buckeyes, which they won 34-24. Michigan State hasn’t played the strength of schedule that Stanford has, but with the games they’ve played, they have compiled quite a résumé that leads me toward their first Rose Bowl win since the Reagan administration.
Michigan State 13, Stanford 10.
Another Upset of the Week: Discover Orange Bowl, #7 Ohio State (12-1) vs #12 Clemson (10-2)
These programs have met just once in their elaborate histories, in the 1978 Gator Bowl. That game is infamous in college football lore after Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman after Bauman’s interception which sealed Clemson’s win, and Hayes’ Hall of Fame career ended when he was fired the next day. While we probably won’t see the same reaction from Urban Meyer if Clemson wins, I don’t think we’ll see the same score either, as that was a 17-15 game. This year’s matchup is between the 3rd and 9th best scoring offenses in the nation. Clemson is in their 2nd BCS bowl game in 3 seasons, and the memory of the first is plenty of motivation, as the Tigers try to forget their 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl. Clemson’s 2 losses this season are to Florida State and South Carolina, currently ranked 1st and 9th, respectively. Other than the losses, and a big 3-point win over Georgia on opening day, they’ve beaten everyone else convincingly. Clemson is 2-2 all-time in the Orange Bowl. Ohio State is in just their 2nd Orange Bowl, after beating Colorado by 17 in 1977. They had been hoping to play an ACC team in a bowl this year, but they had Florida State in mind. That hope of a bid in the national title game ended with their loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, 34-24. Even before that, while they had a 12-0 record, many of their wins weren’t necessarily convincing, with 2 particular games standing out. One was against Northwestern, when they trailed for most of the game before winning by double digits only because of a touchdown on the game’s final play. The other was “The Game” against Michigan when the Wolverines chose to go for 2 and the win instead of kicking the extra point to force overtime, and were stopped by the Buckeye defense. Ohio State has given up 35 points or more in 3 of their last 4 games, and this Clemson offense will certainly be the best they’ve played all year. Ohio State is favored by 3, but Clemson will likely have more motivation as they play an Ohio State team who seems to be on the decline as the season comes to an end.
Clemson 48, Ohio State 40.
Closer Than The Experts Think: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, #6 Baylor (11-1) vs #15 UCF (11-1)
Both of these programs come into their first ever BCS bowl game, both after having very similar seasons. In fact, both can claim they are having their best season in school history. Additionally, both have active bowl winning streaks, with UCF winning 2 straight and Baylor winning 3 straight. Baylor is a 17-point favorite, due in large part to the nation’s best offense, which is averaging 624.5 yards and 53.3 points per game. QB Bryce Petty has proven himself as one of the nation’s elite passers, and coach Art Briles’ name continues to surface in rumors about vacant jobs, both at Texas and in the NFL. Baylor was 9-0 in mid-November, and was looking at an outside chance at playing for the national championship in the event they won out. The dream ended with a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State. It didn’t even look like Baylor would get a BCS bid, or at least not an automatic one, going into “championship Saturday” on December 7, but when Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State, the Baylor-Texas game became a de facto championship game, and the Bears won 30-10, earning their trip to Phoenix. UCF was undefeated in conference play, although the fact they are champions of the new American Athletic Conference is more of a hindrance to their credibility than a help. The Knights did beat Louisville, 38-35, in one of the season’s best games back in October, taking the conference title away from the favored Cardinals, and also beat Penn State in Happy Valley. UCF’s one loss was to South Carolina back on September 28, in a game in which they played very well before losing 28-25 to a Gamecocks team currently ranked 9th. While the spotlight will shine on Baylor’s offense, QB Blake Bortles has formed quite an offensive juggernaut for the Knights. Looking deeper at the Knights, however, 4 of their last 5 wins were by a combined 15 points, over 4 teams with losing records. While motivation won’t be an issue, and Bortles should play well enough to keep the game relatively close, Baylor’s offense will be too much in the end.
Baylor 45, UCF 33.
(All photo credits to Wikimedia)