Fab Five: Week XIV
MAC Championship from Detroit, Michigan
Central Michigan -3 Miami (Ohio)
This year's MAC Championship Game is eerily similar to last years' version. Last season, the Central Michigan Chippewas and their dynamic offense, led by quarterback Dan LeFevour, represented the MAC West. They took on a surprise representative from the MAC East, the Ohio Bobcats. One season after finishing 4-7, the Bobcats improved substantially on defense (30.5 points allowed per game in 2005 to 18.1 points allowed per game in 2006) and entered the MAC Championship Game as a 3 point dog to Central Michigan. This season, Central Michigan still has an outstanding offense (they average 33.7 points per game, up from 29.7 in 2006); however, their defense has regressed. The Chips give up 38 points per game after yielding only 22.3 per game last season. Their opponent, much like last season is somewhat of a surprise participant. One year removed from a 2-10 debacle, the Miami Redhawks have managed to cobble together a 6-6 record. The Redhawks have the best scoring defense in the MAC (allowing 24.8 points per game, down only slightly from the 25.3 they allowed last season). The Redhawk offense has not improved substantially from last season either (18.5 points per game in 2006 and 20.0 this season). The reason for the dramatic shift in their record? In 2006 the Redhawks were 2-5 in close (8 points or less) games. This season they are 5-2 in such contests. The Redhawks were not as bad as their 2-10 record last season, and they are not quite as good as their 6-6 record this season. They have a chance to knock off Central Michigan and take the MAC crown, but Central Michigan's one weakness--a porous defense, is not apt to be exploited by Miami's less than stellar offense. And while the Redhawks sport the MAC's best defensive unit, it is a far cry from the BCS units the Chips have already seen when they took on Kansas and Clemson. Like last year's title game, this one should be close for a while, but will get away from the Redhawks in the second half. The final score may not be as lopsided as last year's 31-10 Chip win over Ohio, but it will definitely be by more than 3.
The Pick: Central Michigan
Conference USA Championship from Orlando, Florida
Central Florida -7 Tulsa
For the second time in 3 years, George O'Leary has his Golden Knights in the Conference USA Championship Game. And for the second time in 3 years, the Golden Hurricane stand in their way. Make no mistake about it, the 2005 Central Florida team was much more lucky than good (scored just as many points as they allowed over the course of the season), whereas this team is much more good (grammar alert!) than lucky. Of the Golden Knights 9 wins, 8 have come by at least 14 points. One of those 9 wins was over Tulsa (at home, as this game is) by a 44-23 count. Both teams come into this contest very hot. Central has won 6 in a row, while Tulsa has won 5 in a row since falling to Central. At the very least this game should be entertaining. Tulsa, led by senior quarterback Paul Smith and his 39 TD passes plus a host of underclassmen receivers (the top 5 receivers are all juniors or younger) and a pretty good tailback (Tarrion Adams has over 1000 yards on the ground and averages over 5.8 per rush), average 4-7 points per game. Check out the ridiculous numbers for receiver Brennan Marion. He averages almost 36 yards per catch! Unfortunately, Tulsa allows 34.7 points per game to its opponents. The good news for Tulsa is that their struggles on defense stem mostly from an inability to defend the pass (opposing quarterbacks have a composite rating of 139.88 good for 95th in the country). Their run defense is not great, but it is a little better (they allow 4.45 yards per rush which ranks 83rd nationally). Stopping the run against Central is much more imperative than stopping the pass. Central averages 37.9 points per game, but their offense runs through junior running back Kevin Smith. Smith has over 2100 yards and averages 5.76 per rush and has scored 25 touchdowns. Their passing offense is much improved from last season, but it's also likely that senior quarterback Kyle Israel's solid number (over 60% completion rate, 15 TD passes, only 8 interceptions) are due to the presence of Smith. The difference in this game is Central's defense. While not great, it is far superior to the one Tulsa employs. That plus the homefield advantage means Central Florida will win by more than a touchdown.
The Pick: Central Florida
ACC Championship from Jacksonville, Florida
Virginia Tech -4.5 Boston College
When last these teams met, Boston College prevailed in less than desirable conditions after less than desirable play for the first 56 minutes or so. Two late touchdown drives erased an early 10-0 Virginia Tech lead and the Eagles escaped with their #2 ranking intact. Virginia Tech has not lost since that night, winning 4 ACC games by an average of 21.3 per games, with the smallest margin of victory a 12 point win against Virginia. Boston College meanwhile has lost 2 of 4, but they did win the 'big one' by upsetting the Clemson Tigers n Death Valley. That made up for their shocking loss to Maryland. In their 4 game winning streak, the dynamic VT quarterback duo of Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor have played remarkable football. The Virginia Tech passing game has actually been an asset to the team. Still, as is usually the case, turnovers are the real story. In their first 8 games, Virginia Tech was +3 in turnover margin. That's a pretty good margin. In their last 4 games, the Hokies are +10. That's a great margin - Kansas territory. BC on the other hand, has seen their turnover margin head in the other direction. The Eagles were +11 in their first 8 games and are -8 in their last 4. Of course, in the upset at Clemson, they were even in turnover margin. The Eagles seem to me to be a better version of last year's Wake Forest team. They don't play as many tight games, but when they do, their superiority at the quarterback position allows them to make plays late to pull games out. I expect more of the same this week. So after 3 ACC Championship Games, the conference will have sent a 4-loss team (Florida State in 2005) and two teams that don't historically travel well (Wake in 2006 and BC this season) to the BCS. Is that what they anticipated when they added VT and Miami?
The Pick: Boston College
SEC Championship from Atlanta, Georgia
LSU -7.5 Tennessee
Earlier in the week, I posted a blog about Tennessee and their Pythagorean shortcomings. Judging from similar teams that played in conference title games, things don't look good for the Vols. The 9 teams that were very similar to Tennessee were 1-8 in their conference title games, losing by an average of 9.6 points per game. Away from home, Tennessee has lost by 14 to a Cal team with 5 losses, by 39 to Florida, beaten Mississippi State by 12 (the Bulldogs are 7-5, but have one of the most impotent offenses in the NCAA), lost by 24 to a 6-loss Alabama team, and beaten a 7-5 Kentucky team by 2. LSU is better than all those teams (with the exception of perhaps Florida) and they will throttle the Vols on Saturday.
The Pick: LSU
Big 12 Championship from San Antonio, Texas
Oklahoma -3 Missouri
In their first meeting, nearly 2 months ago, Oklahoma won by 10 and was up by 17 late in the game. However, that game was in Norman (where the Sooners have not lost since 2005). The Tigers also turned the ball over 4 times (to the Sooners' 2) and one of those turnovers (a fumble) was returned for a touchdown. In fact, the Tigers actually led early in the 4th quarter before a pair of turnovers did them in. This game is at a neutral site, and the Tigers are playing for a spot in the national title game. Oklahoma is extremely vulnerable away from Norman. Excluding their 40+ point win over out manned Tulsa, the Sooners have lost at Colorado, beaten a good, but not great Texas team by 7 in Dallas, won by 10 at a bad Iowa State team, and lost to Texas Tech in Lubbock. The Sooners will not only fail to cover, Missouri will win straight up and punch their ticket to New Orleans.
The Pick: Missouri