Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cram Session - Week 15

Thursday, December 4

Dallas (8-4) at Chicago (5-7), Dallas favored by 3 1/2

After getting blown out by the Lions on Thanksgiving last week, the Bears are left to try to play the role of spoiler in their final four games. They could really put a kink in Dallas' once promising season if they are able to beat the Cowboys. Dallas was also embarrassed on Thanksgiving, and now finds themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to being a playoff team. Some were quick to say that Dallas was at a disadvantage, having to play on Thanksgiving, after playing a Sunday night game just four days prior. That probably didn't help things, but what really hurt them was that Tony Romo couldn't get into any sort of rhythm. Himself and the rest of the Cowboys have been better on the road this season, sitting as the only undefeated road team left in the NFL, at 5-0. The Bears started the season 0-3 at home but have won two straight. The Cowboys defense had surpassed expectations during the first half of the season but has started slipping the past few weeks. The Bears offense continues to underwhelm, and can't seem to get into any sort of consistent flow. I think Dallas will play like the more desperate team, and I expect Romo to bounce back with a strong performance against a porous defense. The Cowboys will break the 8 win barrier for the first time since 2009.

Prediction: Dallas 30, Chicago 22

Top 10

Friday, December 5

Pac-12 Championship: #7 Arizona (10-2, 7-2) vs. #2 Oregon (11-1, 8-1) in Santa Clara, California

The Pac-12 championship is the prize, but for both of these teams, there are greater opportunities that await them. For Oregon, a win will cement their place in the College Football Playoff and exorcise their demons from their lone loss this season, which came against Arizona. For the Wildcats, it would take a confluence of events but a win in this game and they will have an outside shot of making the playoff, and an impressive resume with two wins over Oregon. He hasn't received the attention of Marcus Mariota, but it is clear Arizona has a star on their hands with freshman QB Anu Solomon. Solomon has thrown 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions this year. He wasn't spectacular int he win at Autzen, but he played well enough and mostly avoided any glaring mistakes. Another stud freshman that coach Rich Rodriguez recruited is RB Nick Wilson. Wilson led the Wildcats in rushing and averaged 7 yards per carry and had 2 touchdowns in their win over Oregon. Mariota played fine for Oregon in the loss, but the rest of his supporting cast was held in check by Arizona. RB Royce Freeman will need to play better than he did in the first matchup, and provide Mariota some support. Arizona has knocked off Oregon two straight times, and might be the new Stanford, as in a team that has the Ducks number. But trying to beat a team as good as Oregon twice in one season, seems like too tall of a task. I expect Mariota to make some big plays late in the game that will prove to be the difference. 

Prediction: Oregon 38, Arizona 28

Saturday, December 6

SEC Championship: #1 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) vs. #16 Missouri (10-2, 7-1) in Atlanta, Georgia

Missouri has proved the critics wrong by making their second straight SEC championship game. Now, they look to do what they couldn't last season and win the whole thing. If they were to upset the Tide they may actually do damage to the SEC as it could mean no SEC representation in the College Football playoff. Unfortunately for the Tigers, beating Alabama is a pipe dream. There is no way that a team that lost at home to putrid Indiana and was also shut out at home by Georgia, 34-0, is going to beat the Crimson Tide. I expect Tigers QB Maty Mauk to have his struggles with Alabama's defense, even their leaky secondary which was victimized often by Auburn last weekend. Crimson Tide WR Amari Cooper is an other worldly talent and if Blake Sims wants to avoid mistakes he needs to just keep trying to throw it up to Cooper and let him do the work. Cooper leads the Tide with 103 catches, and the second leading receiver on the team, DeAndrew White only has 33. Missouri was able to make a game of it with Auburn last year, but I don't expect a close one in Atlanta this Saturday. I think Alabama is clearly the better team and will stamp their spot in the playoff.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Missouri 17

Iowa State (2-9, 0-8) at #3 TCU (10-1, 7-1)

The college football playoff committee loves them some TCU. Despite nearly losing to a pathetic Kansas team just two weeks ago, after the Horned Frogs throttled a mediocre Texas team, the committee saw fit to catapult TCU over undefeated Florida State. Unlike Alabama, Oregon or the Seminoles, TCU doesn't have to play a championship game, instead they get to play the terrible Cyclones. I don't see any way TCU doesn't make the playoff, unless they only beat Iowa State by one or something. But knowing the committee they would probably think that is amazing and put TCU at #1. TCU needs to just use this game as a tune-up for the playoffs, try to put it away early and stay healthy.

Prediction: TCU 49, Iowa State 10

ACC Championship: #4 Florida State (12-0, 8-0) vs. #11 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2) in Charlotte, North Carolina

The Seminoles have avoided all the landmines, and are now just one win away from earning the chance at defending their national championship. Despite being the defending champion and not losing a game all season, the Seminoles keep dropping in the playoff rankings. If they are unable to beat Georgia Tech, despite having just one loss, it appears impossible that the Seminoles will make the playoff. Georgia Tech is the best team the Seminoles will have played all season. The Yellow Jackets have a high powered offense that ranked 17th in the nation in scoring. As is always the case with a Paul Johnson offense, they run, run, run the ball with the triple option, and pass only when necessary. Tech has three players over 600 yards rushing this season, QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, and RB Synjyn Days. While the Seminoles focus on defense will have to be stopping the Tech rushing attack they can't outright ignore Jackets QB Thomas' threat to throw. When Thomas does throw his favorite target is WR DeAndre Smelter, who led Georgia Tech with 7 receiving touchdowns.

Jameis Winston is coming off a terrible game against Florida, throwing 4 interceptions. Winston hasn't been anywhere near the player he was last season, throwing just 21 TDs as compared to 40 last season, and has seen his interceptions increase from 10 to 17. In fact, Winston has put his defense in tough spots many times this season, only going 2 games he played this season without throwing an interception. WR Rashad Greene disappeared against Florida, so the Seminoles will have to try hard to get him involved in the gameplan. With Tech liking to run the ball and controlling the clock, it forces their opponents to take advantage of every position. Winston and the Noles can't get down 17 or 21 points this game, like they have in the past, because then Tech can just bleed the clock.

I don't expect Winston to play a perfect game and it will be interesting, but the Noles just keep finding ways to win, so at this point I can't pick against them. Somehow, some way, Florida State will do what they do best, overcome adversity and win.

Prediction: Florida State 33, Georgia Tech 30

Big Ten Championship: #13 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1) vs. #5 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0) in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Buckeyes improbable rise from losing to a terrible Virginia Tech team at home to potentially making the playoff hit another road bump last weekend. QB J.T. Barrett, who after that terrible game against Tech turned into a Heisman trophy contender was lost for the season. Barrett had already replaced Braxton Miller so the Buckeyes are now down to third string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones has attempted just 19 passes in two seasons and is now tasked with trying to lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship. That means expect Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott to run often in this game. Elliott has had a strong season, averaging 6 yards per carry and rushing for 10 touchdowns. While how he plays will be key to Ohio State's chances, the most impactful player in this game figures to be Badgers running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon rushed for over 100 yards in every game but one this season. He is the Badgers offense, and if Ohio State is able to slow him down in any meaningful way than they will have a chance of winning with Jones at quarterback. I don't expect that to happen. Ohio State's defense will have to play the game of its life on Saturday and I don't think they are capable of it. The Buckeyes national title dreams will die for the second straight season in the Big Ten title game.

Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Ohio State 24

#9 Kansas State (9-2, 7-1) at #6 Baylor (10-1, 7-1) 

Despite defeating TCU earlier this season, and doing so with an impressive comeback, Baylor appears to be on the outside looking in when it comes to making the College Football Playoff. A win over Kansas State would be a nice boost to their resume, but it would likely take losses by Ohio State and Florida State for Baylor to reach the top four. But first, they do have to beat the Wildcats, who have dropped just one Big 12 game all season. The Bears have to be concerned about quarterback Bryce Petty, who suffered a concussion in last week's win against Texas Tech. If Petty isn't himself, the Bears can still rely on RB Shock Linwood, who has rushed for 15 touchdowns this season. Wildcats senior QB Jake Waters has been excellent this season and has great receiving weapons in Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Like Waters, they are both seniors, so a chance at Big 12 title will be weighing heavily on the minds of those players, as the Wildcats face a rebuilding season next year on offense. I expect a highly competitive game, but Baylor's homefield advantage to make the difference as the Bears will hang on and win their 17th straight home game.

Prediction: Baylor 38, Kansas State 34

Last Week: 7-5
Overall: 98-30

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