• Tailgating: For God and Conference, or Your Conference Championship Game Discussion Thread

    MK: We clearly suffered from a hangover after last weekend and we're late to the party. And by 'we' I mean me. There's no time to waste.

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    1.) Once more, if you could go to any game in college football this weekend, where would it be and why?

    BW: While this weekend doesn't have the same volume of a normal college football weekend, it is loaded with quality games up and down the slate. That fact is obvious, of course, but with Alabama's loss, it seems that there is more intrigue in this year's conference championship games than in years' past. Last year, with Notre Dame having already essentially clinched a spot in the national title game, the most intriguing game by far was the Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship, which acted as a de facto semifinal. This year, for the first time since 2005, there is no guarantee that the SEC Champion will qualify for the national championship, even though both Auburn and Missouri are in the top 5. The B1G also features two heavyweights, while the ACC features a classic David vs. Goliath matchup. Add to all of that an intriguing Pac-12 Championship, and a couple of huge games in the Big 12, and tomorrow is going to have an old-time New Year's Day feel to it. Before the BCS, New Year's used to be loaded from top to bottom with great games, many of which took place simultaneously. With TV revenue and the BCS now locking each major bowl game into it's own window, New Year's is no longer as relevant, making tomorrow the closest facsimile we have. Considering all of that, I'm copping out. I'm frying up some of Biggie's wings, some of your salsa, cracking open an ice cold Pepsi or two, sending the kids to grandma's, and staying in for my own personal home game. With 12 hours of nothing but meaningful college football goodness, why would I want to go anywhere else, and risk missing out on much of the action?

    MK: I know we've both talked before about how much we miss the New Year's Day bowl slate of old--with the overlapping and contingent importance of each game--but there was some of that last week, wasn't there? Usually, in the early morning of January 1 there were not too many games on, so while you might have clicked around you settled into one (say, that Ohio State and Michigan game). You flirted with turning the game off, maybe (if you weren't me) once Ohio State went up 35-21 in the second half--or you flipped over to watch Duke--Carolina at the half--but your patience was rewarded because you stayed with it and the Wolverines mounted a comeback. At mid-afternoon and following Michigan's failed two-point try, you flipped over to the Iron Bowl, which had started a few minutes prior, just in time to see Alabama miss their first of four field goals for the day. You're occasionally glancing at Georgia--Georgia Tech, but you know better than to look at Florida--Florida State for entertainment. By the time Georgia--Georgia Tech gets interesting, though, you're already so far deep into the Iron Bowl that it's difficult to manage both. I just hope you didn't have the wrong channel on when this happened.

    By the time the flurry of late games rolls around--Stanford and Notre Dame, UCLA and USC, Missouri and Texas A&M--it's hard to settle into a game, because there are three reasonably close options and because you've watched seven hours and change of football played between four teams who hate each other. So, maybe it wasn't quite like New Year's Day, but it was just a taste of it, at least for me, last weekend, jumping up and screaming 'I KNEW IT!' when Hoke sent his offense onto the field to go for two or when jumping up again when whatever we're calling that play happened.

    This weekend, though, you've outlined the great choices. As much as I want to spin the wheel for the massive underdog in Charlotte, I've got to go with the Big Ten Championship Game. When I was a bit younger, I read a lot of Tolstoy--I know, not the most accessible avenue for connecting with football fans, but stay with me here--and I'll tell you, he wrote War and Peace, an historical novel of three Russian families during the Napoleonic Wars, in large part to talk about the philosophy of history. In particular, he wanted to smash the Great Man Theory of history, that individuals made and moved empires, and so on, because it was so popular in the late nineteenth century. In any case, this is a massive, massive book, as I'm sure you know, and while I have some personal philosophical differences with Tolstoy, I've always loved one particular piece of his description of the Battle of Borodino--which was basically a bar-room brawl of a fight between the Russians and the French involving about 250,000 guys in 1812--where he describes the common soldiers as more ready and, by the hour of battle, more in need of the fight than anyone else, to the point where, if Meyer and Danto--er, I mean, Napoleon and Kutuzov, agreed to back away from the battle, some great force would have propelled the two armies into action against each other anyway.

    That is the kind of game you're going to see in Indianapolis tonight. Obviously, football games are not war--and I kind of roll my eyes at people who take these metaphors too seriously (but I also roll my eyes at others who react a little too sanctimoniously when others use such language)--but it will be kind of a bar fight. These two teams have been careening toward each other for the last month and a half, obviously the class of the Big Ten this year, the confrontation is probably the last game of the college football season until we get to the bowls. Now that I've finished writing this, I'm not sure I like this, because we--Ohio State--are clearly the French in this analogy...

    2.) Conference championship games are supposed to be the culmination of the college football regular season and have increased in abundance in the past few years. They have a relatively short history but what, if anything, have they added to the sport?

    MK: Not to lift the curtain on this too much, but I'm reading Brian's commentary and can't really disagree all that much with what he has to say, so I'm going to pepper his response with interesting footnotes.

    BW: Honestly, the conference championships have probably added nothing more than a watered-down regular season schedule, and contrived drama. OK, that may be overly simplistic and not entirely fair. As the popularity of college football started to take off in the 1980s, and the revenue from TV contracts and corporate sponsorships was starting to soar, many of the independent schools started to understand that in order to survive the newly developing college football landscape, they could no longer afford to stand alone. One of the people who understood this best was Joe Paterno, who spent a number of years in the '80s clamoring for the Eastern football-independent schools such as Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, West Virginia, Boston College, and even possibly Miami and Florida State, to unite into one conference to help solidify and stabilize revenue. When those teams balked, Penn State decided to take the leap, and accepted the Big Ten's invitation to join their conference in 1990, becoming the first team added to that conference in 40 years (Michigan State).

    MK: True.

    BW: Following Penn State's decision to join a conference, the rest of the independents started to follow suit. 1991 saw the formation of the Big East football conference, as well as Florida State joining the ACC, and South Carolina joining the SEC, who became the first conference to expand to 12 teams by also adding Arkansas from the SWC. By the mid-'90s, the only remaining relevant, non-service academy independent was Notre Dame, who nearly joined the Big Ten on a few occasions, before ultimately deciding to continue to embrace their independence. Then, in 1994, with conferences expanding around them, the Big 8 teamed up with the 4 SWC Texas institutions (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor) to form the Big 12. Part of the lure of creating this conference was the added revenue that would be added due to the ability to form a conference championship game.

    MK: Did you know that, at the time, the three Texas public schools--UT-Austin, A&M, and Tech--had no real plans to include Baylor in the new Big XII, but Texas's then-governor and Baylor graduate Ann Richards insisted that Baylor be invited as well?

    BW: With an unbalanced schedule due to their expansion 12 teams and 2 divisions, in 1992, the SEC became the first conference eligible to hold a conference championship game.

    MK: The late '80s were a truly tumultuous period for college football, some of it caused by the fact that then-power Southern Methodist had just received the infamous Death Penalty sentence, which I think may have caused Arkansas to look outside of the Southwestern Conference. It probably didn't help that basically everyone in Texas was on probation, too, by the early '90s, either.

    BW: With the added financial gains created by adding a "playoff" type of game, other conferences were soon following suit, and looking to expand. Shortly thereafter, the Big 12 was formed, playing their first conference championship in 1996. The ACC became eligible to hold a conference championship in 2005, and the Pac-12 and B1G each expanded to 12 teams and added a conference championship game in 2011.

    The down side is that we've lost a number of rivalries thanks to conference expansion. For example, Penn State was forced to leave behind many of their traditional eastern rivals when moving to the Big Ten, and the unbalanced schedule in the Big 12 meant that traditional rivals Oklahoma and Nebraska, who were in opposite divisions, would no longer meet on a yearly basis. In a sport without a playoff system of any kind in place (until 2014), the addition of conference championship games was the only way to add a playoff-type game to D-1 college football. As we all know, any playoff structure is perfect at adding contrived drama, which leads to greater exposure, more demand, and greater revenue. In the end, the conference championships are usually great TV, as are all playoff games. Drama equals great TV, which equals greater viewership, which leads to generating more revenue. So in the end, as far as the conferences are concerned, the conference championships are acting mostly a huge money-maker for the conference. Unless, of course, you're the MAC. I'm not even sure Bowling Green is happy that Bowling Green won, considering that Northern Illinois' loss cost them a berth in a BCS game, which ends up costing the MAC roughly $8 million.

    MK: And we all know, when it's not about the money, it is.

    3.) Barring a loss by Florida State or Ohio State, does Auburn have any grounds to jump into the national title game?

    BW: This all assumes that Auburn is actually able to beat Missouri, but the answer is no. Call me naive, but I still value when a team's record indicates a 0 after-the-dash, especially if they play in a major conference. Yes, Auburn plays in the SEC, and the SEC is widely considered the best conference in college football. But what many fail to take into consideration when discussing the SEC is the unbalanced schedule each team plays. While Auburn did beat Alabama, it's not like the rest of their schedule stands out in comparison to Florida State or Ohio State. Their other wins over currently ranked opponents include a decent win over mostly disappointing Texas A&M, a miracle home win over mostly disappointing Georgia, and a bad loss to mostly disappointing LSU. Add in conference games against Arkansas, Tennessee, the 2 Mississippi schools, and non-conference giants such as Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina, and Florida Atlantic (all at home), and I don't see the big deal. Honestly, I think this is a non-issue. If Florida State and Ohio State take care of business, each will rightly be in the national championship game. If one (or both) loses, then the like-records will justify schedule scrutinization, and in that scenario, I do believe that the winner between Auburn and Mizzou will have the best resume. But as long as Ohio State and Florida State still have that 0, there should be no discussion necessary.

    MK: I hate it when we agree this much, but when you're right, you're right. As we've said again and again, the participants in a championship game should be the two most deserving teams and not necessarily the two best teams. The most talented teams in the country, in all probability, are Florida State and Alabama, but one of them has remained undefeated and the other one lost. Auburn had some early steam, but the computers didn't vindicate them, as they almost universally ranked Ohio State ahead of them heading into this weekend, even though the SEC boosters are essentially arguing that Ohio State's affiliation with a conference which isn't up to its usual standards and a few ugly performances nearly a decade ago should disqualify them from participation. Sorry, my Southern friends, but that's nonsense. Bad football teams simply do not lose every regular season game they play for two straight seasons, no matter how weak you think their schedule is--and I think that's somewhat more debatable than most people will allow. If the SEC's honor is insulted because it failed to provide a national champion for one year, that's on it and not on anyone else.

    I posted this in the comments section a few days ago, but I'd encourage people to pick from these four--I've added a fifth, to stir the pot, and using the three most basically elements available to grade these teams--and tell me which two they like, mindful of the fact that three of these have lost games:

    Team A: 2 wins against Top 25 teams, 5 wins against teams with 7+ wins; average margin of victory, 27.5 points.
    Team B: 3 wins against Top 25 teams (of which 1 is a win against the Top 10), 5 wins against teams with 7+ wins; average margin of victory, 16.1 points.
    Team C: 1 win against a Top 25 team, 4 wins against teams with 7+ wins; average margin of victory 42.7 points.
    Team D: 1 win against a Top 25 team, 6 wins against teams with 7+ wins; average margin of victory, 27.9 points.
    Team E: 2 wins against Top 25 teams (of which 1 a win against the Top 10), 5 wins against teams with 7+ wins; average margin of victory, 22.4 points.
    4.) How strong is the SEC compared to years past, and is it so much better than other leagues as Auburn's proponents would have you believe?

    BW: The SEC is very good, and is still the best conference in college football. But no, it's not like the SEC is in another class when compared with conferences like the Pac-12, the Big-12, or even the Big Ten. When Alabama went down, it solidified that there really isn't a truly dominant team in college football this year. Auburn was terrible last year, and many felt that Gus Malzahn would need a few years to rebuild that program, yet, they were able to come out of nowhere to finish 11-1, which doesn't necessarily suggest that they were able to overcome top programs to make that happen. Same with Mizzou and Texas A&M, who were both middling to decent Big 12 schools, and once joining the SEC, were able to take the league by storm. South Carolina is another good, but not dominant team. Yes, the SEC has more good teams than other conferences, with 7 of the 14 ranked, but the unbalanced schedule largely negates that advantage. Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, and even Mississippi all disappointed this season, relative to expectation. Heck, Florida lost at home to a middling D 1-AA school. Tennessee and Arkansas are also both in the middle of a transition period. Maybe it returns to form next season, but the domination of the SEC has been greatly over-exaggerated this season.

    MK: I agree that the SEC is the best conference in college football, though it may be that the Pac-12 is nipping at its heels. I've made the argument before that, in large part, excellence in any conference is connected to the quality of coaching you'll find in the group as a whole, and I think the Pac-12 has only closed the gap recently by moving Sarkisian from Washington USC, keeping Mora at UCLA, and bringing in Chris Peterson to Washington from Boise State. This is a conference with great, great coaching. We've both talked about how much we like David Shaw, and Todd Graham looks to be a rising star at Arizona State, at least in terms of what he's gotten out of an Arizona State that I don't believe anyone expected to be nearly this good. Factor in that you have guys like Mike Leach...

    ...and whatever his faults at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez, at down-ticket schools in the conference and this is looking like an outstanding and very stable league. I'm hardly alone in saying so, but I think they're on the rise.

    The SEC, for now, is still on top, and coaching has been the reason why. They've been the dominant force in college football for a little over a half-decade, with two programs built up by Nick Saban (LSU, of course, was originally a Saban machine and it has been maintained and tweaked a bit by Les Miles, and Alabama) and another by Urban Meyer (who has left and whose replacement, Will Muschamp, has had his difficulties on the offensive side of the ball), with Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier making excellent contributions in their own right.

    Conferences have been copycats of the league championship game model of the SEC, just as they've mimicked the Big Ten's conference television network as a way to add revenue to the pot. Obviously, athletic directors around the country didn't notice that the SEC has some really excellent coaches and decide that maybe it would be a good idea to go out and find some (although I wouldn't be surprised to see an SEC shill make that argument, and who knows what Gary Danielson will be saying in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game this afternoon). With Meyer gone, though, and safely ensconced in Columbus, Ohio, it's going to ultimately raise the level of play in the Big Ten over the next decade or so, and he's joined a group that includes the surly Mark Dantonio, the very capable Bill O'Brien, and his counterpoint Brady Hoke. That's a solid base for the Big Ten's new Eastern Division, which I'm willing to bet will be on the rise in short order.

    The clear moment of ascent for the SEC was the 2007 bowl season, when Florida massacred Ohio State and LSU annihilated Notre Dame. It's hard not to see something semi-political about the joy everyone took in seeing these two old powers from the north pilloried. Maybe, beneath all of the SEC rhetoric and bombast, they realize this might be an apocalyptic moment for the conference's hegemony, which these schools and their supporters seem to have relished so much for the last seven years. A part of me, as an Ohio State fan, would love one last chance at an SEC power in a national championship game, but it just doesn't look to be in the offing.

    5.) And we all know why that is. Duke enters the ACC Championship Game as a 29.5 point underdog against Florida State. Should the Blue Devils pull the upset, where would it rank all time?

    BW: First of all, I'm not going to include any of the D 1-AA vs. D 1-A matchups. Appalachian State's win over Michigan a few years ago was improbable on so many different levels, but considering the scholarship differences, it's tough to compare any of the FCS schools with even a school like Duke. When we think of upsets, the first that immediately pops into mind is the Boise State win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

    Ignoring Utah's win over Pitt a few years earlier, that was the first true occurrence of a BCS buster knocking off a legitimate powerhouse program. However, Oklahoma was only roughly a TD favorite in that game. A couple of years later, Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar, but the shock was mostly gone. A Duke win over Florida State would be even more improbable than either of those. The team this Duke team reminds me of more than any other is Northwestern in 1995. Northwestern had been an irrelevant football program for decades. To start the 1995 season, they played Notre Dame in South Bend. The Fighting Irish were a top 10 team, and Northwestern was still considered among the dregs of college football. Northwestern improbably ended up winning that game 17-15, and ended up riding that momentum to a 10-2 finish, a Big Ten championship, and a trip to the Rose Bowl. But this year's Florida State is better than that Notre Dame team. It's tough for me to go back any earlier than my lifetime, so I guess the best answer I can give is that I think a Duke win would be the single biggest like-classification upset of my lifetime.

    MK: You've made the fairly logical connection between Duke and other smart-guy football teams, but I've got a relatively short answer to this question that looks at it another way. Duke, as we all know, is a basketball school, and this game is about as close to a 1-seed against a 16-seed as you can get in a football game on this stage. That's never happened before in the NCAA tournament. We've had 15s beat 2s and 14s beat 3s, but in men's basketball a #16 has never taken down a top seed in all of March Madness.

    Florida State has vaporized basically every team they've played, and given our expectations for Duke--which are so low, and maybe more limited than places with similar histories and academic orientations like Wake Forest and Rice because we see every winter how good this school is at basketball--I don't see any way that this couldn't be the biggest upset of my lifetime, at least on this kind of stage, in Division I-A (or FBS) college football if the Blue Devils pull it off. They won't, of course, but that's the rub of it.

    As I've said before, Duke is secretly a power running team, and the dirty secret of college football--as much as the NFL may be a quarterback league--is that you win most big games and most national championships grinding the football and playing defense. Florida State's run defense is beastly, but can the Devils put up enough yards and points to keep Jameis Winston off the field and give themselves a chance? Probably not, but I hope so.


    MK: Each week of the regular season, we'll be picking about five of the premier matchups on the slate. Instead of picking against the spread, we'll be raising the stakes using confidence points, a common method of scoring in bowl game pools. The more we believe in our pick, the higher the confidence rating. If five games are chosen, five is the highest rating, with one being the lowest. Each number can only be used once. This week, we're choosing six to compensate for the fact that the Upset Special is not a category this week.

    #17 Oklahoma at #6 Oklahoma State
    12:00, ET

    MK: Oklahoma has been rolling since their loss to Baylor, but we don't like this short trip to Stillwater for them. The Cowboys are playing bigger and meaner than I ever remember, and despite a personal distaste for them, I wonder why they're not getting more national championship consideration if things blow up tonight.

    BW's pick: Oklahoma State, 38-24. Confidence rating: 4.
    MK's pick: Oklahoma State, 44-20. Confidence rating: 5.

    #3 Auburn vs. #5 Missouri

    3:30, ET

    BW: Last week, Auburn spoiled Alabama's bid for a three-peat. This week, Missouri looks to steal Auburn's script. The most interesting matchup in this game will be Auburn's great rushing attack against Mizzou's fantastic rush defense. The winner will be following the evening events closely, as a loss by either FSU or OSU would likely slip them into the national championship game. Matt believe that Auburn's dream season will continue, while I think that Missouri will flip the script.

    BW's pick: Missouri, 27-20. Confidence rating: 2.
    MK's pick: Auburn, 28-27. Confidence rating: 1.

    #9 Baylor at #25 Texas

    3:30, ET

    MK: With last night's loss by Northern Illinois, a BCS spot has opened up and the Bears have to know they're candidates to fill that spot if they win impressively today.

    BW's pick: Baylor, 38-17. Confidence rating: 5.
    MK's pick: Baylor, 52-20. Confidence rating: 4.

    #7 Stanford at #11 Arizona State

    BW: Stanford is looking for their 2nd straight Pac 12 Championship, after beating UCLA last year. Arizona State advanced to this game by knocking off the Bruins two weeks ago, and a win last week over Arizona gave them the home field advantage for this game. Matt sees ASU earning their Rose Bowl berth since Jake Plummer was leading the Sun Devils back in 1997, while I see Stanford's defense taking over this game en route to their 2nd consecutive New Year's trip to Pasadena.

    BW's pick: Stanford, 30-17. Confidence rating: 3.
    MK's pick: Arizona State, 33-28. Confidence rating: 3.

    #1 Florida State vs. #20 Duke

    BW: David vs. Goliath. The last time Duke was involved in a game like this, it was a few years ago in Lucas Oil Stadium, when Duke faced Butler in the national championship game. Except that was basketball. This is football, and as such, Duke is the heavy underdog to a Florida State team that is on a national championship mission of their own. Butler nearly pulled off the miracle, as a last-second game-winning attempt from mid-court rimmed out. However, Matt and I don't think Cinderella's slipper will fit this year, as we both see Florida State rolling out of Charlotte with a spot in the national championship game locked up.

    BW's pick: Florida State, 44-21. Confidence rating: 6.
    MK's pick: Florida State, 47-30. Confidence rating: 6.

    #2 Ohio State vs. #10 Michigan State

    MK: It's pretty easy to tell you how this one will be decided: Ohio State is averaging 321 yards per game running the ball, while Michigan State is only allowing 64. Brian's on the Russians, I'm on the French.

    BW's pick: Michigan State, 21-18. Confidence Rating: 1.
    MK's pick: Ohio State, 35-26. Confidence rating: 5.


    MK: The upset special is an off-the-board pick which must meet one of two criteria: (1) a consensus gap in rankings of at least five places or (2) a point spread of at least a touchdown or greater. Games between ranked and unranked teams automatically qualify. The team cannot cover but must win outright. This category, unfortunately, cannot be played out this week because there are simply not enough games to qualify and pick a full slate. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you during bowl season if not sooner.

    MK: 20-9 (1-5), 69 points overall
    BW: 18-11 (2-4), 67 points overall

    MK: 6-1 (0-1), 24 points
    BW: 5-2 (1-0), 24 points

    Comments 119 Comments
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      FP gives you the Professors of College Football.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Auburn is trying to put away Mizzou. Mizzou is cooperating.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Oh. And if ESPN supposedly owns college football, why were they showing a friggin' MLS game today?
    1. mkocs6's Avatar
      Watching at a bar with a few friends, one of whom is an Auburn fan. It's been lively.

      As of this writing, Missouri's alive, but barely.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      We're officially an MSU and Duke win away from an Auburn-Alabama rematch.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Oh, and a belated congrats to Baylor on winning their first Big 12 Championship. I'm glad they'll officially get their BCS shot. Would love to see them vs Oregon in the Fiesta.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      We're officially an MSU and Duke win away from an Auburn-Alabama rematch.
      Oh gawd no.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      Oh, and a belated congrats to Baylor on winning their first Big 12 Championship. I'm glad they'll officially get their BCS shot. Would love to see them vs Oregon in the Fiesta.
      I think there is a strong possibility you will get that matchup in the Fiesta.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar

      Go Spartans.

      MSU 27 - The Poisonous Nuts 24. 11:00 to go .
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      I'm not sure the SEC isn't blushing after that final. Horrible defenses. For me, a microcosm of the mediocrity of the top teams in college football this season. It's been entertaining, but not of the highest quality.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      Oh. And if ESPN supposedly owns college football, why were they showing a friggin' MLS game today?
      Not that it matters, but why am I watching the B1G Championship on FOX? The B1G is televised locally on ESPN/ABC or the B1G Network. Screwy. Go Sparty.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      That was the MLS championship game.

      I guess the conferences sell their champ game as a separate package, which is why they're on weird networks and ESPN is basically shut out.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Come on, MSU. You are better than this. A blocked punt?

    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Well looks like Spartie is going to do Auburn a big favor.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      #33 in Green & White, Jeremy Langford has some game.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Excellent! Go Spartans!
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Screw the Urb. I hate that guy.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Me too. Happy to see him lose.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      Why do you guys hate him so much?
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by hobbes27 View Post
      Why do you guys hate him so much?

      Because the Big 10 has always had an honorable feel. The Urb will make the B1G the SEC North.