The Magnificent Seven: Week XV
Last Week: 3-4
Central Florida +7 East Carolina
The race for the crown in the American conference is yet to be decided. Memphis is in the clubhouse with a 7-1 mark and has clinched at least a share of the title. However, with one loss apiece, Central Florida and Cincinnati are still alive for a share of the title as well. If you are like me, and are pulling for sheer zaniness this weekend, Central Florida, Cincinnati, or Memphis could potentially grab one of the New Year's Six bowl games should Boise State lose in the Mountain West Championship Game. Yes, it is a long shot, but crazier things have happened. As for capping this game, were I a betting man, I would wager a significant amount on Central Florida. The Knights have one of the best mid-major defenses, and since losing to Connecticut on November 1st, have allowed just two offensive touchdowns in three games. East Carolina won't be held without an offensive score, but this spread should be closer to a pick 'em.
Arizona +14.5 Oregon @ Santa Clara
For the first time in the brief history of the Pac-12, the title game will be held at a neutral site instead of at the home of the team with the better conference record. A win by the Wildcats would not only give them their first outright Pac-10/12 title since joining the conference in 1978, it would also give them three wins over the Ducks in the past two seasons. For Oregon, a win certainly vaults them into the inaugural College Football Playoff, and would also give them their first conference title since 2011. It is unfair that some teams have to wait so long between championships. Arizona will keep this one close, but the Ducks will prevail sans a cover.
Marshall -12 Louisiana Tech
Despite their home loss to Western Kentucky last week, Marshall still has an incredible (unadjusted) profile. They outgained Conference USA opponents by over three yards per play (7.88 to 4.86)! Unfortunately, their dream season was shredded on a two-point conversion. Still, the Thundering Herd have a great deal to play for. A win here would give them their first conference championship since 2002. Plus, a solid performance by quarterback Rakeem Cato could land him an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony. The Thundering Herd will be opposed by an improved Louisiana Tech team. The Bulldogs finished just 4-8 in Skip Holtz's first season in charge, but improved to 8-4 this season behind the best defense in Conference USA. Holtz has won a pair of Conference USA Championship Games, both times as an underdog, but I think the Herd will be too much here, particularly at home.
Iowa State +33.5 TCU
With the release of the latest college football rankings, TCU appears to be just a win away from locking up a playoff spot. Now all they have to do is get by an Iowa State team that has not won a conference game since the end of last season. Iowa State has played TCU tough in their two contests as Big 12 members, with the Cyclones upsetting the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth two years ago, and losing a close contest in Ames last season. This one won't be as competitive, but the Cyclones should hold the margin of defeat under 30.
Missouri +14.5 Alabama @ Atlanta
The newbies from the Big 12 have now won twice as many SEC East titles in three seasons as Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt have combined to win in 23 seasons. The Tigers will be looking to exorcise a few demons from last year's title game when Auburn shredded their previously stout defense with nearly 700 yards of offense, including 545 on the ground. The Tigers enter this game once again boasting a stout defense, in fact the best in the SEC by yards per play. To be fair, the Tigers play in the SEC East, so some adjustment for strength of schedule is necessary, but the defense is still the strength of the team. This is especially true when considering quarterback Maty Mauk completed less than half his passes in five of eight SEC games. Alabama is clearly the better team, but as a double-digit favorite away from home, the Tide are 0-3 ATS this season. I think Missouri loves company, and keeps this one within two touchdowns.
Georgia Tech +4 Florida State @ Charlotte
I feel a little nervous jumping on that Georgia Tech bandwagon after their upset over Georgia last week. Everyone has been waiting patiently for Florida State to lose all season, and yet the Seminoles are unbeaten (and disrespected) as Championship Weekend approaches. If noting else, this game should be entertaining with two of the best offense in the ACC going head to head. The last time these two teams met was a classic (although no one was there to see it). Take the Jackets to win a tight one and open the door for either Ohio State or Baylor to sneak into the playoff picture.
Fresno State +21 Boise State
At the beginning of November, things looked bleak for the Fresno State Bulldogs. Fresh off a Mountain West title, the Bulldogs stood just 3-6 and were a loss away from missing a bowl for the first time under Tim DeRuyter. Then the Bulldogs reeled off three straight wins and thanks to their earlier win over San Diego State actually won the West division of the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it looks like they will enter bowl season with a losing record like Georgia Tech did in 2012. A win here would be a major upset, but a cover would not be unprecedented.