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WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL?
November 23, 2011

SCS.com As the college football season prepares to enter the final two weekends, the realignment storylines finally appear to be receding from the headlines. Part of the cooldown may have to do with the play heating up on the field, but more than likely, the movement has cooled down because the BCS may make all the shuffling irrelevant soon. The BCS announced that they are considering perhaps just determining the national championship and leaving the partnerships with the other bowls to the conferences themselves. That would mean the Rose Bowl would return to a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 match up every season, and other regular bowl pairings could be maintained. Meanwhile, the small schools and conferences such as the Big East and the Mountain West would be left scrambling, unless the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl let those conferences in the door. Would losing the crazy chaos on fitting 10 teams into five bowls make the BCS better? Less controversial maybe, but probably not better, and especially not for small schools. On the other hand, this may be the first necessary step to a plus one playoff, which would be a significant improvement over the current system.

Returning to the realignment, let's start with the MWC-CUSA merger. On the bright side, these two conference have been the cream of the non-BCS crop in FBS Football, so merging them will likely provide the best BCS buster in the new conference championship game. But that might not matter if BCS at large berths go away in short order. Then these two conferences would be signing up for a strong possibility of having a dream season wrecked by the champion in the other conference. With some of the best teams in the Mountain West (Utah, TCU, Boise State) being sniped away by other conferences, and perhaps Conference USA losing some teams to the Big East, this merger may be a matter of necessity for both leagues. That being said, the geography will probably break that merged superconference apart as quickly as this fad for mega-sized conferences subsides. Meanwhile, the Big East is trying to save a sinking ship with Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and TCU leaving (the Horned Frogs before they even arrived!). The Big East currently plans to add UCF, SMU, and Houston in all sports along with Boise State, Air Force, and Navy in football only. If these moves fall through, the future of the Big East is in serious jeopardy and the conference may fall apart in football as more teams run from the sinking ship.

Of the major conferences, the Big Ten is the most stable by adding only Nebraska despite starting this realignment mess two years ago. The SEC will add Missouri and Texas A&M to reach 14 teams, and the Pac-12 added Utah and Colorado to reach 12 teams. The ACC did not want to be left behind the SEC and so added Pittsburgh and Syracuse to reach 14 teams. While all these major conferences have added teams and the Big East falls apart, the Big 12 has been at the center of the storm by losing four members in various directions and then adding two replacements in TCU and West Virginia. The Mountaineers make about as much sense in the Big 12 as frying a stick of butter, but the Big 12 was desperate and so was WVU. One can only hope that all these marriages of convenience work out better than the geography would indicate, as expenses will go up with all the excess travel. However, the realignment will certainly keep all of us following college football on our toes as we figure out what this strange new world looks like. Will the SEC stay on top of the heap in this new world? Only time will tell.

Speaking of staying on top of the heap, a crazy weekend of games has left us with SEC teams holding the top three spots in both polls and the BCS Standings. As a result, with two weeks left in the season, it appears that the BCS Championship will be an all-SEC affair barring two major upsets. Additionally, the SEC may also be able to take advantage of a little known exception to the rule limiting conferences to two teams in the BCS bowls. The exception allows for a third team if the BCS Championship pairs two teams that are not conference champions of the same conference, so that the champion of that conference can get into the BCS as expected. How this would play out is if Georgia defeats LSU in the conference championship, as LSU will likely stay in the BCS top 2 to play Alabama, resulting in three SEC teams in the BCS. Currently the team that stands to lose the big payday if this happens appears to be Michigan, as the Wolverines are finishing strong and will not play in the Big Ten championship (thereby limiting their opportunities to lose a third game). The BCS will love to have Michigan back after a five year hiatus, but the Wolverines would be left out almost certainly if Georgia steals a third bid for the SEC.

So what is the only scenario other than voter revolt upon which we will avoid a SEC West rematch in the BCS Championship? The most simple way would be for Auburn and LSU to defeat Alabama and Arkansas this weekend. That would allow one of the one loss teams such as Virginia Tech, Stanford, or Oklahoma State to jump back into the mix against LSU. Alternatively, if Auburn and Arkansas each pull the upsets, then Alabama will slip behind one or more non-SEC teams and Arkansas will play in the conference championship against Georgia. If the Bulldogs win that game, then Arkansas will drop out to leave LSU and one of the aforementioned one loss teams. As can be seen, the only likely scenarios for preventing a SEC rematch is to have Auburn defeat Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Weird things happen in rivalry games, and the whole country outside of SEC country may very well be cheering on the defending national champions to pull the upset and open the door again for the likes of Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech. I still hold out hope for LSU and Oklahoma State to play, as the Cowboys offense will provide a real tough test for LSU. However, perhaps the same could be said of Arkansas this weekend, as LSU continues to play and win every game on the toughest schedule in college football.

Last weekend brought shades of 2007 when every national championship contender lost a game in the final four weeks of the season, leaving Ohio State (who lost their next to last game) and LSU (who lost twice in overtime) to play for the national title. Also in 2007, nobody could hang onto the number two ranking for very long as every week seemed to bring a new upset. However, the sport had never seen a November and early December like that year, with every contender going down and about eight coaches openly lobbying with good arguments for being in the national championship. Although this season is not quite crazy enough to allow a team with two losses in the BCS championship, LSU could conceivably lose one of their last two games again and still be comfortably in the top two when the season ends. Given the schedule that LSU has dominated, which includes Oregon, West Virginia, and Alabama, nobody has much complaint assuming LSU does not get blown out by Arkansas or Georgia. But back to the crazy weekend. Never before had three of the top five teams in the nation lost on the same weekend this late in the season. Although USC is a good team and Baylor had Oklahoma on their home turf, Iowa State winning a game as a 28 point underdog is just inexplicable. So what happened to each of these teams? Inconsistent kickers, that's what.

The last three weeks have been littered with games decided by kickers or kicking teams. Whether by missing the field goal (Oklahoma State, Oregon, Boise State) or by having the field goal or extra point blocked (Cincinnati, Ohio State), many teams have had their November fortunes turned around by poor kicking in the clutch moments. Should this be a surprise, when coaches generally just settle for a walk on kicker rather than using a scholarship and hunting for one of the most important players on the team. Especially with every game being on television, the pressure is huge for these kids to perform and so many things can go wrong. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the fickle kicking game has undermined so many contenders this year, whether they are conference title contenders or national title contenders. Oklahoma State and Oregon will certainly not be forgetting how important their field goal kickers are anytime soon. For that matter, neither is Alabama, despite recovering from the 2-for-6 performance that lost them the home game against LSU last month. No field goal is automatic, and until more focus is put on recruiting these critical athletes, the crazy nature of college football will continue.

This week brings three days of games for the Thanksgiving weekend, and a full four days of football if you count professional football that plays during the day on Thursday and all day Sunday. This weekend brings food, football, and family together for a little gathering we call rivalry week. Most of the teams in the country are playing traditional rivals this week, highlighted by two of the biggest rivalries in the country when Alabama plays Auburn and Ohio State plays Michigan. These games can make or break a season, as evidenced by how desperate Auburn and Ohio State are to make their seasons OK with a win over their rival. Even if the season has been bad, there is always hope for next year, especially when the final game is won. The passion level is simply higher this weekend, so sit back and enjoy all that rivalry week has to offer, even those games in regions that are normally outside your scope of viewing. There should be good stories and good games all weekend. Once this weekend is gone, there will be nothing left but conference championship weekend and bowl season, which is kind of a sad thought.

Speaking of Ohio State, apparently coach-hiring season has begun even for some schools that have not fired their current coached yet. There is too much smoke in the Urban Meyer to OSU rumors for there to not be fire, so it appears that early next week Urban Meyer will be announced to be the next full time head football coach in Columbus. However, this story broke over a week ago initially and has been developing despite Luke Fickell and the 2011 Buckeyes not being done playing games. For a man who loves Ohio State and would gladly stay on the staff in his former capacity as an assistant coach, what Ohio State has done to Fickell is just plain wrong. Of all schools, Ohio State should understand that everything is leaked eventually to media. Nothing can be kept secret, except perhaps top secret classified government information. It's not like Urban Meyer was goign to be stolen away from his dream job, the job for which he wrote special clauses in his coaching contracts at Utah and Florida to allow him to take the job. Ohio State could have waited and at least looked like they seriously considered Fickell and other candidates. But by jumping the gun, Ohio State has effectively stabbed their interim coach in the back. That's disappointing, especially considering that these stories are distracting from what is normally the biggest sporting week in the state of Ohio as Michigan comes calling. Time will tell if this move is brilliant or stupid, but the execution has been lacking.

Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez also landed in a new spot this week as the head coach of Arizona. Unlike Michigan, Arizona is traditionally patient with head coaches, probably because competing against the California schools in the Pac-12 is difficult to do for an Arizona school. Rich Rodriguez is a good coach and will recruit his players to make Arizona relevant again in the conference race. One only needs to look at the talent at Michigan and the results at West Virginia to know that RichRod can succeed as long as he is given enough time. Arizona made a good hire to start the hiring season, and it will be interesting to see just how quickly Arizona can compete with the division seemingly wide open behind a scuffling USC program.

The first game of the week for rivalry week is Notre Dame at Stanford. Notre Dame has quietly won eight out of its last nine games to reach 8-3 following the surprising 0-2 start. Brian Kelly will look to contain Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense for the third straight season, although the Irish have failed to win either of the previous two games. This year's Notre Dame team is much better on offense behind quarterback Tommy Rees, who has thrown efficiently with 19 touchdowns and a 67% completion rate. Rees will continue to target his favorite receiver Michael Floyd, who went over the 1000 yard mark on the season last weekend against Boston College. One thing that may slow the Irish is the loss of one of their two running backs to a kneee injury, although Cierre Wood may be able to pick up the extra carries without too much problem for this single game. Andrew Luck will look to improve on his performance from last year, when he threw for a lot of yards but only one touchdown to two interceptions. Luck needs a big performance and perhaps some good breaks from another Oregon loss to give him enough opportunities on the national stage to regain the Heisman race. However, he has not hurt his draft stock this year and that is probably the most important thing in the long run. Stanford will perhaps lock up a BCS at large berth with a 10 point win.

The second game of the week is Penn State at Wisconsin, which will decide who will win the Leaders division in the first year of Big Ten division play. Michigan State awaits the winner, and Wisconsin is likely excited about having a chance to avenge one of their two painful last minute losses on the season. Penn State has the best defense in the conference, but Wisconsin has one of the best offenses, especially at home. Russell Wilson has only thrown 3 interceptions compared to 26 touchdown passes this year, so he has not been prone to making mistakes even against above average defenses. Penn State will need to load up against the run to stop Montee Ball and James White, which will give Wilson opportunities to burn the coverage. The Nittany Lions defense will keep the game close. When Penn State has the ball, Matt McGloin will need to continue to show improvement against a Wisconsin defense that has been opportunistic this season. Illinois outplayed Wisconsin for over a half but it all fell apart when the Badgers forced some bad plays and turnovers from the Illini offense. Expect the same script this weekend in Madison, as Silas Redd will not be enough by himself to defeat the Wisconsin offense. Penn State keeps this game in the low 20's, but fails to score 20 themselves and loses the division title with a 7 point loss.

The third and final game of the week is another classic SEC showdown as LSU hosts Arkansas. LSU has outscored many opponents, but the best unit on the team is clearly the defense. While sometimes the defensive secondary for the Tigers will make a mistake, the risks they take are usually paid off with a turnover or two. junior Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson has excelled in his first season at the helm of Bobby Petrino's offense with over 3200 yards on the season. Although LSU will certainly try to double team some of Arkansas's best receivers like Jarius Wright, Wilson will still find some openings and make some big plays. LSU will definitely try to follow the lead of Alabama, which blew out Arkansas with a strong pass rush and a lockdown pass defense earlier this year. Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson will give the Arkansas defense some different looks and challenges in trying to figure out what plays are coming. One key for both of these offenses will be establishing a rhythm in the running game. LSU should find an easier time doing that against the Razorbacks defense. LSU locks up a trip to the Georgia Dome next weekend with a 3 point escape at home.

OTHER GAMES OF THE WEEK - WEEK 13

Texas A&M def. (25) Texas
(8) Houston def. Tulsa
(21) Nebraska def. Iowa
(2) Alabama def. (24) Auburn
(5) Virginia Tech def. Virginia
(7) Boise State def. Wyoming
(9) Oklahoma def. Iowa State
(10) Oregon def. Oregon State
(12) South Carolina def. (17) Clemson
(23) Georgia Tech def. (13) Georgia
(14) Michigan State def. Northwestern
(15) Michigan def. Ohio State
(18) Baylor def. Texas Tech

2011 GOTW Record: 17-4
Last Week: 3-0
2011 Overall Top 25 Record: 121-26
Last Week: 13-5

Fitz Top 10 - Week 13

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Houston
4. Arkansas
5. Oklahoma State
6. Stanford
7. Virginia Tech
8. Boise State
9. Oregon
10. Oklahoma

Just Missed: Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Kansas State

Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you next week, when we preview conference championship games and welcome the Pac-12 and Big Ten championships for the first time. Until then, enjoy rivalry week!

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