Tag Archives: Temple Owls

Wake Forest Leak Was Dumb, But Wouldn’t Even Rank as a Top Scandal in the ACC

If we are at the point of the year where we’re discussing the Wake Forest football team, one of two things has happened. It’s either A) The Demon Deacons have done the impossible and have snatched away the ACC crown and are heading to one of the CFP games this New Year’s Eve or B) Wake Forest is caught up in something so incredibly stupid it’s almost too hilarious to even be considered a scandal.

Since Option A obviously didn’t happen (nor will it ever, if Clemson and Dabo Swinney have anything to say about it, among others), it’s clearly B.

Former Deacons assistant coach and radio announcer Tommy Elrod was caught leaking Wake Forest game plans in the run-up to its game against Louisville. It’s not really as if the Cardinals needed any additional help since they hammered the Deacons, 44-12, but Elrod obviously lost his radio gig and has, all of a sudden, raised questions about what else he might have divulged. That includes the recent news out of Virginia Tech that he passed along info to Hokie assistants in 2014.

On the surface, though, when you look how Louisville overcame some early miscues in that game and beat the brakes off of Wake Forest, does anyone outside of Wake really think that it was the result of some chicanery?

Since the story is building and taking on a life of its own, you can go ahead and come up with whatever theory you like as far as Elrod’s motivation. Was this an intricate plot to seek out revenge on his alma mater for firing him from the coaching staff in 2013? At this point, though, it reads less like a James Bond novel and more like he was playing the role of The Mole from one of the Austin Powers movies.

And, no, we’re not supposed to talk about the bloody mole!

No matter how things shake out, in terms of mind-boggling scandals, the Wake Forest revelations aren’t even close to being the biggest of the year. The Baylor football team won that crown walking away a long time ago.

And since the Cardinals are involved, particularly Bobby Petrino, does this even rank in their list of biggest scandals? Petrino had to do a press conference because he got into a motorcycle crash while he was stepping out on his wife (Yes, he was at Arkansas at the time, but still).

Let’s also not forget that Louisville just got over everybody paying attention to the men’s basketball team and the escort scandal, although the school is still dealing with the NCAA regarding the violations that came out of that mess.

So yes, while it’s probably true that the Cardinals, in some way, ran afoul of the NCAA regarding Wake Forest, they’ve got a little bit more on their plate.

Speaking of plates and scandals in the ACC, the Wake scandal isn’t exactly Jameis Winston and the crab legs kerfuffle, even though both would rank up there in terms of sheer ridiculousness. In terms of far-reaching and flagrant violations, North Carolina and its ongoing academic integrity scandal is worse than anything that Elrod could have given Louisville.

And let’s not forget that Miami is in the ACC. Sure, Coral Gables has been pretty quiet recently, but you never know with the Hurricanes. Who knows when another Nevin Shapiro will magically appear?

Impressively, it’s Clemson that seems to be the most scandal-free of all the ACC teams in recent years (though that 1985 steroid scandal is still pretty high on the all-time scandals list). The worst thing that Swinney has done in his tenure is accidentally butt-dial a recruit on Facetime.

If there’s any good news for Wake Forest, at least there will be a little bit more intrigue for its December 27th match-up against Temple in the Military Bowl in Annapolis. Realistically, with the Demon Deacons sitting at 6-6, most of the publicity was going to be centered around the 24th-ranked Owls. That tends to happen when you win the American Athletic Conference championship game in an upset over Navy.

Now the intrigue will shift over to Wake Forest. An otherwise mundane pre-New Year’s bowl game (in which Temple is heavily favored) might be worth looking into, all of a sudden. The questions about where the Demon Deacons might have been, win-wise, if not for the spiteful actions of their radio guy could serve as a better narrative.

That is, unless you were okay with the one about the Owls coming to serve notice that they’re the best team in the AAC and laying waste to their bowl opponent as further proof of that. Nobody would blame if you if you’re still sticking with that storyline, though.

Ultimately, while Wake Forest is really in the weeds with Elrod and his shenanigans, the scandal itself will most likely turn out like most football seasons do for the Demon Deacons: middling and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Wikipedia

Penn State Can’t Shake Paterno

Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, won the league title in 1994 with an 8-0 conference record, and hasn’t won an outright title ever since. The program has never achieved the dominance of its new conference home that partisans expected two decades ago, but those same fans have to be looking back wistfully now at those interim years of New Year’s Day bowl games and double-digit victory seasons. It’s been a while.

In fact, it’s been seven years since the Nittany Lions went 11-2 and won the Capital One Bowl after the 2009 season. This decade has been a succession of mediocre campaigns, coaching controversies and Pinstripe Bowls. The cause of the recent mediocrity, of course, is not a mystery.

Five years ago Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of the sordid Jerry Sandusky criminality, rocking the Happy Valley community’s beloved football program to its foundations. It is certainly not my purpose here to rehash that saga. The perpetrator is behind bars and the coaching legend is six feet under. Still, controversy rages, and the football program staggers on.

What made the Sandusky story and the resulting media orgy so unnerving to college football fans at the time was the way dirty, nasty reality had rudely invaded their Saturday afternoon escapism from dirty, nasty reality. How dare it do that?  They reacted much like Paterno reportedly did when, in 1976, he was confronted by witness JohnDoe150 with the story of an early Sandusky abuse, “I don’t want to hear about any of that kind of stuff, I have a football season to worry about”

Then just this past September, the still somewhat deluded Penn State community decided to commemorate Paterno with a halftime ceremony at the Rutgers game, and the media reacted much as they did five years ago…by trying to out-outrage each other. One wonders what the Penn State fan base thought would happen. They’re not over him. Neither is the football team.

Bill O’Brien presided over an 8-4 team in 2012 and a 7-6 team in 2013, both years with a roster severely depleted by NCAA sanctions. O’Brien won nearly universal praise from media types for righting the ship in troubled waters, but over time he grew frustrated with administration politics, and the never-ending battles with the faction he called “the Paterno people”.  He bolted to the NFL’s Houston Texans after 2013, and if my Twitter timeline is a reliable indicator, that has embittered some Nittany Lions fans. As far as I know, his first name does not begin with an “F”.

Franklin does however, and Lions’ 3rd year head coach has not escaped the wrath of a football community impatient for a return to glory. He entered 2016 coming off back-to-back seasons of 7-6. In the eyes of his detractors, the Lions’ non-conference wins over Kent State and Temple this fall aren’t enough to balance out getting drilled 49-10 by Michigan and dropping one to cross-state rival Pitt.

Like the dreaded vote of confidence, the periodic assurances by PSU officials that Franklin “is not on the hot seat” merely reflect the fact that much of the community feels he is right there on it.  

With a 4-2 record going into this weekend’s nationally televised matchup with #2 Ohio State, James Franklin has a chance to back up the predictions of Bill O’Brien and others, who have forecast a return to college football’s elite under his leadership.

After the Buckeyes visit, the remainder of the schedule is not daunting. Penn State avoids the two best teams from the Big Ten West, Wisconsin and Nebraska, and plays Iowa and a flailing Michigan State team at home. The roster is back to a full 85 scholarship players, and a respectable bowl game is well within reach. The administration counsels patience. The coach asks fans to trust the process.

An upset win Saturday could get the program’s fans finally looking forward with optimism rather than back with mixed emotions at the man in the white shirt and the black glasses.  It’s about time.

E-mail Dan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dwismar.

Photo: Wikipedia

It’s Getting Hot in Happy Valley

Last Saturday, just under 70,000 fans gathered at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to see the hometown Panthers beat in-state rival Penn State 42-39. It was the first game between the two programs in 16 years, a rivalry that dates back to 1893. Leading up to the contest, Penn State and head coach James Franklin nonchalantly downplayed the game’s significance.

While there wasn’t a national championship or Top 10 ranking on the line like in the 70’s and 80’s, the game was a perfect opportunity for the Nittany Lions to make a statement and Franklin to cool the fire that had been growing underneath his seat.

However, Penn State simply wasn’t ready to play and unless they somehow upset one of the conferences contenders later this season, which I don’t see happening, this was their opportunity to excite the fans and boosters that the program is ready to rise up from the ashes. Instead, they faltered, never recovering from a 21-point first-half deficit despite a late-game comeback and were steamrolled for 341 rushing yards.

Expectations, whether fair or unfair, have always been high for Penn State and while Franklin’s first two years weren’t awful at 7-6 each, they certainly weren’t great either. At this point in time, fans are getting restless and patience is running thin.

In college football, someone is always to blame and that person is usually the coach. Even if he’s winning, if expectations aren’t met, he will get canned. Remember Bo Pelini at Nebraska?

There are those who argue Franklin isn’t even winning the games he should despite having talent and his track record isn’t very impressive either. He’s only won six conference matches against subpar opponents (Rutgers twice, Indiana twice, Illinois, Maryland) and the only game that came close to a signature victory was a 31-24 loss in double overtime to ranked Ohio State in 2014. They also point to his success at Vanderbilt and say if he was successful in the SEC, he should be at Penn State in the Big Ten regardless who’s in it.

Now, is it fair to exclusively blame Franklin given the fact that he took over a program that had gut-wrenching NCAA sanctions levied against it? I certainly don’t think so. At times I feel he should get the benefit of the doubt because it’s only been two games this season and fans shouldn’t be quick to rush to judgement when they knew it was going to be a long, tough road.

He has made two bowl games and I think fans need to give him and new quarterback Trace McSorley, who’s made only two starts, more time. Furthermore, as Franklin himself stated, this should be considered the first year of his tenure since it’s the first year being back to the allotted 85 scholarships and it’s still a very raw and inexperienced roster, as only 12 players have senior eligibility.

Those who follow Penn State know the Nittany Lions must replace nine starters, including three on the defensive line, and that the offensive line barely gave the offense a chance to succeed as it ranked 124th and 113th in sacks allowed the past two seasons.

To me, if Franklin ends up with a 4-8 record, then he might be in boiling hot water, but if they can finish right in the middle again, he deserves another year. If Purdue’s Darrell Hazell was able to get another year despite a 6-30 record entering this season, then there’s no question Franklin should be the coach.

Yet, as aforementioned, fair doesn’t always exist in college football and even as much as I feel patience should be given in regards to Franklin’s tenure, the temperature is rising in Happy Valley, particularly after this loss.

Now, should he lose to Temple this Saturday, then I believe he’ll be in big trouble but as of now, he’s still hanging on, just barely.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons

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The American Athletic Conference’s Best Football Games of 2016

The AAC has been looked at as little more than a mish-mash of former Big East teams. One season has changed all that. Nobody expects them to move up to the level of a Power 5 conference, but they can’t be looked at as mere push-overs.

Last season, Houston achieved program-altering success and that momentum, along with their schedule, gives them an outside shot at the Playoff in 2016. It wasn’t just the Houston Cougars earning the AAC respect. Temple, Navy, and Memphis were all in the Top 25 at one point during the season. While a couple of those teams may fall back a bit with the loss of quarterbacks, other teams are primed to improve and make sure Houston doesn’t just waltz through the conference schedule.

Who will those teams be? There are some early season games among the ten best that may show which AAC team can challenge the Cougars for the top spot.

10. Temple vs. SMU (Saturday, October 1)

The conference opener for both teams, Temple will try to pick up where it left off last year. A year ago, SMU put up 40 against a Temple defense that allowed the second fewest points in the conference. The Mustangs still fell 60-40.

9. Cincinnati vs. Houston (Thursday, September 15)

Cincinnati was a disappointing 4-4 in the conference last year but was 5-1 at home, where they’ll get the Houston Cougars this year. The Bearcats only lost by three at Houston last year, and this Thursday home game early in the year will give them a chance to derail Houston’s conference and playoff hopes. This match-up will also provide the AAC’s two best quarterbacks in Greg Ward Jr. and Gunner Kiel.

8. SMU vs. TCU (Friday, September 23)

SMU didn’t exactly put a scare into TCU last year, but a 56-37 final made it closer than the Horned Frogs would have liked. Now the Mustangs get Gary Patterson’s crew at home, and we’ll have a good chance to see how far Chad Morris can bring his team in his second year as head coach.

7. Connecticut at South Florida (Saturday, October 15)

South Florida won seven of its last eight regular season games last year. Included in that stretch was a one-score victory over UConn. If the Huskies are going to improve on their six-win season and stay in the race for the AAC West, it starts here.

6. Temple at Connecticut (Friday, November 4)

This will be a big game in the AAC West race. Connecticut’s offense was abysmal last year, but Huskie fans hope there will be improvement with ten starters back. Temple will be trying to replicate the success of their 10-win 2015 after having just 12 total in the previous three seasons.

5. Houston at SMU (Saturday, October 22)

This should be a fun one. SMU struggled in Chad Morris’ first year as head coach but it shouldn’t take him long to get the offense rolling. The defense will have problems stopping Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. led offense, but the Cougars lost all four starting defensive backs so this game should see plenty of points.

4. Temple vs. South Florida (Friday, October 21)

The East division is Houston and everyone else this year, but the West will be up for grabs. This game could determine who plays the Cougars in the conference championship game. Temple and South Florida were the two best teams in the West last year and the winner of this one will have a leg up in the division race.

3. Houston vs. Connecticut (Thursday, September 29)

Houston gets Connecticut on a Thursday night at home, where they will try to avenge their only loss from the 2015 season. It won’t be easy though, with the Huskies returning a conference-high 16 starters.

2. Houston vs. Louisville (Thursday, November 17)

The Cougars get another chance to make a statement with this oddly scheduled non-conference game late in the year. If the Cougars lose to Oklahoma in the opener, no one will give them much credit unless they show up big in this one. This might be the best defense Greg Ward Jr. and company face all year.

1. Houston vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, September 3)

Houston heads into 2016 with a ton of hype after going 13-1 with a win over Florida State in 2015. We’ll see if they can sustain that success right off the bat when they play the Sooners in the season opener. With Greg Ward Jr. back, the offense should hold its own. This game will be about which rebuilt defense can get enough stops (Noon est, ABC/ESPN).

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl: #24 Temple vs. Toledo

#24 Temple (10-3, 7-1 American) vs. Toledo (9-2, 6-2 MAC)

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl at 7pm on ESPN

Question mark: Will Toledo be the same without head coach Matt Campbell?

Earlier this month Matt Campbell left Toledo to become the head coach at Iowa State.  He chose not to coach the bowl game.  Some guys want to, some guys don’t.  Everyone has their reasons.  But now Jason Candle steps to the forefront.  He has been offensive coordinator since 2012.  Candle has a lot more on his plate now but his main concern is making sure there’s no drop-off with his players.

Game inside the game: Toledo rushing attack vs. Temple run defense

Toledo likes to run the ball.  Temple likes to stop the run.  The Rockets go for 213 per game on the ground.  Temple only allows 126.  Running plays are a battle of will.  Offensive linemen clash with defenders each and every play in an attempt to open up running lanes for ball carriers.  The battle in the trenches between Toledo’s offense and Temple’s defense will go a long way in determining a winner.

Player to watch: Toledo running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson

Normally, I try to limit the player to watch category to one player, but sometimes exceptions need to be made.  That is the case with these two exceptional Rocket running backs that’ve combined to produce 1,764 yards and 17 touchdowns this fall.  Hunt runs more between the tackles with Swanson coming in for the change of pace.  The combination has been deadly.  Both can carry the load for an entire drive.  Both can catch the ball out of the backfield.  Both should be coming back next year.  Hunt is a junior, Swanson just a sophomore.  Watch these two go to work to familiarize yourself for next season.

X-factor: Toledo offense vs. Temple defense on third downs

If you look at the Owls from a statistical angle it’s hard to figure out how they win.  Sure, they hold opponents to 19 points per game, but how?  It’s simple actually.  The Temple defense makes stops on third down.  They hold opponents to a 31 percent third-down conversion rate, good for fourteenth in the FBS.  Toledo, however, ranks sixteenth in third-down efficiency at 46 percent.  This is where I think the game will be decided.  If the Rockets can pick up first downs and sustain drives the game will swing their way.  If the Owls turn third downs into kicks they’ll be playing their game.

Prediction: Toledo over #24 Temple, 33-27

I think the Rockets, behind Hunt and Swanson, have what it takes to beat the Owls.  That said, it will not be at all easy.  This will be a back-and-forth game.  Toledo will have to make a play late to earn the win.  I believe they will.

Five You Must See: Conference Championship Weekend

Bowling Green (9-3) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4) Friday 8:00pm on ESPN

Question mark: Can Northern Illinois stifle the Bowling Green offense?

Toledo is the only team that’s really been able to slow down #FalconFast this season.  In that game the Rockets were fueled by a couple picks thrown by Matt Johnson.  That’s great news for the Huskies who have at least one interception in every game this year, 19 in all which ties them for fifth in the FBS.  Picking off Johnson a couple times in this one would provide a huge boost.

Game inside the game: BG receiver Roger Lewis vs. NIU defensive back Shawun Lurry

With 1401 receiving yards, Lewis is just fifty shy of the FBS-leader, and Lurry is tied for the FBS-lead in interceptions with eight.  I imagine these two will be lined up across from one another quite a few times throughout this game.

Player to watch: Northern Illinois running back Joel Bouagnon

The MAC’s top rushing offense is led by the conference’s best back.  Of the Huskies’ 213 yards per game on the ground, Bouagnon accounts for 101 of them.  He’s also got 18 rushing scores this fall, tying him with guys like Leo Fournette and Dalvin Cook for fourth in the nation.

X-factor: Red zone efficiency

NIU holds opponents to a field goal as good as any team, and far better than most, at 38 percent.  Even better, they score a touchdown on 75 percent of their red zone possessions.  Bouagnon’s nose for the goal line is a big reason why.  The thing is Bowling Green has more red zone touchdown that anyone this season, and at 74 percent they convert just about as often as NIU.  Whichever team turns their red zone trips into seven points and not three will win this game.

#22 Temple (10-2) at #19 Houston (11-1) Saturday Noon on ABC

Question mark: Which team handles the pressure better?

This game will crown the AAC champion and the Group of Five conferences’ representative in the New Year’s Six.  That makes this the biggest game many of these guys will ever play in.  The team that handles that added pressure will be well on their way to a victory.

Game inside the game: Temple head coach Matt Rhule vs. Houston head coach Tom Herman

Two of the most coveted coaches in college football are squaring off here.  Rhule hasn’t yet committed to staying or going.  He’s got quite a lot on his plate so we’ll give him a pass for now.  Herman, on the other hand, recently inked a new deal with Houston that will double his pay.  He deserves it.  And it’s good to see a guy stay at the “small school” that gave him a shot instead of skipping town to take the first offer from a bigger program.  The strategy behind this game will be as fun to watch as the play on the field.

Player to watch: Tyler Matakevich, Temple linebacker

Matakevich is the active FBS-leader in tackles.  He’s just the seventh player in history to record at least 100 tackles in four straight seasons.  He plays outside linebacker but obviously makes plays all over the field.  Keep a lookout for him.  It shouldn’t be too hard.

X-factor: Houston’s third down efficiency

Houston is sixth in the nation, converting just over 50 percent of their third downs.  Getting the Cougars off the field when they have the chance will be essential to an Owls’ victory.

#18 Florida (10-2) vs. #2 Alabama (11-1) Saturday 4:00pm on CBS

Question mark: Can the Gators score?

In the last four games Florida has been lackluster at best.  9-7 over Vandy, 24-14 over South Carolina, 20-14 over Florida Atlantic in overtime, and 27-2 in favor of Florida State.  Again, lackluster, at best.  The kicker is Alabama has a better defense than any team they’ve played all year.

Game inside the game: Alabama running back Derrick Henry vs. Florida’s front seven

Florida has the seventh best run defense in terms of yards per game.  They’ve got their work cut out for them against the FBS leader in rushing yards.  Henry carried the ball an astounding 45 times last week.  Alabama is going to run Henry between the tackles until you stop him no matter who’s lined up on the other side.

Player to watch: Florida defensive back, Vernon Hargreaves

This kid’s a stud.  He’s only a junior, but he’s considered by many a top prospect in this spring’s NFL Draft.  Hargreaves defends the pass, steps up to stop the run and he doesn’t shy away from contact like some defensive backs do.  Watch out for number one.

X-factor: Pass protection

These two teams rank third and fourth in sacks.  Clearly, pressuring the quarterback is a big part of the defensive strategy here.  The Gators’ pass rushers have to get after Jake Coker to make the Tide one-dimensional.  The offensive line needs to give Treon Harris some time to make plays.  If they can’t do both things well then their chances are slim.

#5 Michigan State (11-1) vs. #4 Iowa (12-0) Saturday 8:00pm on Fox

Question mark: Does Iowa belong here?

Sure, they’re undefeated but the Hawkeyes haven’t had to play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State until now.  Quality wins over Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Northwestern are nice but they’re a far cry from the Big Ten Championship Game against a top five opponent.  We’ll see.

Game inside the game: Iowa’s offense vs. Michigan State’s defense

The Hawkeyes prefer to run the ball.  They’re one of those weird teams that actually average more yards rushing than passing.  That plays right into the Spartans’ game plan.  As evidenced in Columbus a couple weeks ago, the Spartans enjoy stopping the run.  If Iowa can’t find early success on the ground they’re in trouble.

Player to watch: Connor Cook, Michigan State quarterback

Cook was confined to the sideline two weeks ago in Columbus.  Last week he returned to the lineup looking like he hadn’t missed a beat.  He completed 19 of 26 pass attempts for 248 and three touchdowns.  People have been debating all season whether or not Cook has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback at the next level.  Leading his team to victory here would certainly help make his case.

X-factor: Michigan State receiving corps

Dropped passes and inconsistent production on the outside have haunted the Spartans for the past two years.  Hanging onto the ball and making plays when needed will make this a much easier task for the Spartans.

#10 North Carolina (11-1) vs. #1 Clemson (12-0) Saturday 8:00pm on ABC

Question mark: Can UNC’s defense get enough stops?

I have no doubt the Heels can keep up with the Tigers.  My concern is that they won’t be able to get enough stops to actually beat the Tigers.  This one should be a shootout and those always come down to defense.

Game inside the game: Clemson vs. program history

“Clemsoning” – The perennial process during Dabo Swinney’s tenure that sees the Tigers lose games they should win just when we all think they’re home free.  It’s up to the 2015 Tigers to distance themselves from those demons of the past decade.

Player to watch: North Carolina quarterback, Marquise Williams

Meet the best college football player you haven’t heard of.  Williams is the definition of a dual-threat, averaging 65 yards on the ground and 217 through the air.  He keys the offense and therefore the entire North Carolina team.  If the Tarheels are going to win, it’ll take a huge game from Williams.

X-factor: A quick start

In games like this where everyone is giving one team more of a chance than the other, it’s all about the start.  If the Tarheels can match the Tigers’ intensity in the first quarter and keep this close we’re in for a classic.

Staff Pick’em: Championship Game Edition

And so here we are. The regular season has ended and against all odds and shoddy score keeping, there’s two people tied for first place in the picks. Both Mitch and myself ended the season at 43-23 to set up the first ever Championship Game Showdown! Never fear though, your other favorite staff pickers will be back next time.

 

David Poole (@VirgoAssassain): 3-3 (36-30)

Mitch Gatzke (@GreatGatzke): 3-3 (43-23)

Courtney McCrary (@CourtMac17): 3-3 (39-27)

Derek Woods (@D_Woods21): 4-2 (36-30)

Britt Zank (@BZank17): 0-6 (30-36)

Tim Bach (@TBach84): 4-2 (43-23)

 

#5 Michigan State vs #4 Iowa

Tim Bach: I still haven’t figured out Iowa yet but they just keep winning. Nebraska gave them trouble and showed how to beat them in theory at least. Michigan State has their offensive and defensive lines rolling and a healthy Connor Cook makes the difference. Sparty marches to the College Football Playoff.

Mitch Gatzke: Iowa is undefeated mostly because they haven’t had to play the Big Ten juggernauts.  It’s been an incredible run for the Hawkeyes, but I think the Spartans put an end to it.  State wins 24-14.

#22 Temple vs #19 Houston

Tim Bach: Temple hasn’t been quite the same since they got beat by Notre Dame. Houston in theory no longer has to worry about their coach getting poached so they can actually focus on the game now and just trounced a pretty good Navy team. The Owl is a cooler mascot but this is about winning so I’m going with Houston.

Mitch Gatzke: This one’s a close call.  I’m leaning toward Houston because they’re hosting and Greg Ward Jr.’s playmaking ability is undeniable.  Cougars 38, Owls 30.

#18 Florida vs #2 Alabama

Tim Bach: This will be the most lopsided of the championship games without a doubt. Florida got demolished by Florida State and most likely had their confidence broken. The SEC is mostly garbage this year but Alabama is still pretty good and they’ll drop at least five scores on Florida in a blowout.

Mitch Gatzke: Nobody seems to be giving Florida much of a chance in this one.  I’ll say this though: Alabama better go out assert its dominance early.  The Gators can’t score, but they can make life awfully tough for opposing offenses.  In the end, the Tide roll, 17-9.

#20 USC vs #7 Stanford

Tim Bach: I waffled on this one a lot because it will depend on which USC shows up. Is it the USC who beat up Cal, UCLA, and Utah? Or is it the USC who got stomped by Stanford and Oregon? They say it’s hard to beat a team twice in a season. I’m banking on the USC that beat up on UCLA coming to town to face that Stanford defense that just allowed Notre Dame to put up 36 points. Also, I think Mitch will pick Stanford.

Mitch Gatzke: Granted, it is an extremely long shot, but Stanford is still alive in the playoff hunt.  A blowout win here and something unexpected at the top might be just enough to sneak the Cardinal into the fourth spot.  It’s tough to beat any team twice in the same season, but that first meeting was a long time ago.  I think Stanford is that much better than USC.  35-23.

#10 North Carolina vs #1 Clemson

Tim Bach: This one is hard to pick because I don’t actually know how good North Carolina is. Other than bombing Duke, who did they really play? Clemson on the other hand took care of some pretty solid competition in Florida State and Notre Dame. I’m going to go with Clemson because if somehow they lose, Ohio State is going to luck their way into the Playoff.

Mitch Gatzke: As much as I’d love to be the guy who calls this upset, I’m not confident enough to do it.

North Carolina will score enough points to keep pace.  I have no doubts about that.  My worry is that the Tarheels won’t be able to get the stops they need late in the game.  Clemson pulls away in the fourth, 42-34.

Staff Pick’em: Week 12

Everyone tried to be nice and uniform and all score 3-3 last week but I had to be a jerk and break that streak as long as I didn’t fail at math which is known to happen. We’re really getting down to crunch time with only two weeks left and technically everyone is still in the race. Your leaders in the clubhouse are me and Mitch who are tied at the top. Britt’s bringing up the rear but like I said, not eliminated yet.

 

David Poole (@VirgoAssassain): 3-3 (31-23)

Mitch Gatzke (@GreatGatzke): 3-3 (36-18)

Courtney McCrary (@CourtMac17): 3-3 (32-21)

Derek Woods (@D_Woods21): 3-3 (31-23)

Britt Zank (@BZank17): 3-3 (29-25)

Tim Bach (@TBach84): 5-1 (36-18)

 

#13 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State

David Poole: Both teams had gimme games last week, so confidence should be on an upswing. However, I’m sure Sparty and company are still smarting a bit after that Nebraska loss. The Buckeyes are clearly more formidable with JT Barrett at the helm. With that, I think Ohio state leans on Barrett and Elliot in the run game and tire out Michigan State by the fourth and begin to air it out to close the game. Buckeyes in a dogfight, 24-21.

Mitch Gatzke: The Spartans love being the underdog and they’ve got their wish here. I’ve been calling it since August so I couldn’t possibly turn back now. Michigan State forces a couple turnovers and wins by a touchdown.

Courtney McCrary: Ohio State: I think it will be a close game, especially if Connor Cook is healthy enough to play in the game. But I think Ohio State will win it at home.

Derek Woods: Ohio State is the more talented team and will prove it on Saturday. The real test for the Buckeyes will come the following week at Michigan.

Britt Zank: Urban Meyer is a big game coach and he will have his team playing at their best.  This will be a battle of strengths with the OSU Offense vs the MS defense. But in a low scoring affair I see Ohio State making more plays to win 20 – 14

Tim Bach: This isn’t your usual Michigan State team after all the injuries, especially on defense and to Connor Cook. Ohio State isn’t great but Sparty doesn’t have the stamina to keep up. Ohio State pulls ahead late and keeps the lead.

 

#21 Memphis at #22 Temple

David Poole:  Memphis is coming off a heart-breaking loss, while Temple got flat out obliterated. I see Memphis picking up where they left off and finishing the job this time around. Tigers win convincingly, 35-20.

Mitch Gatzke: Memphis is probably the more talented team of these two, but sometimes it takes more than talent. Temple is looking to lock up the AAC East this weekend. That should to motivate them to hold Paxton Lynch and company in check. The Owls win a close one.

Courtney McCrary: Temple: Both teams had tough losses last week and will be looking to rebound this week. i think Memphis will have a harder time rebounding from their loss and Temple will win.

Derek Woods: Memphis blew a game it easily should have won last week against Houston and will get back on track in a close win over temple.

Britt Zank: Memphis goes into Temple and wins a shootout.

Tim Bach: It makes me happy that we’re still talking about teams like these this late in the season. I think bouncing back from a drubbing is sometimes easier than coming back from a heartbreaking loss. Give me Temple at home.

 

#19 UCLA at #10 Utah

David Poole: The Utes aren’t nearly as ferocious as they were at the beginning of the year. With that, I think Josh Rosen has no problem connecting with his receivers for huge gains and Paul Perkins does enough on the ground to keep Devontae Booker on the sidelines. UCLA wins, 34-28.

Mitch Gatzke: I feel like every time I’ve picked one of these teams they’ve repaid me with a loss. Utah running back Devontae Booker will not play the rest of the season. The Utes relied heavily on him and they’ll struggle to replace him. You never cheer for injuries but the Bruins have to be happy they’re not up against Booker this weekend. Somehow I think UCLA pulls off the mini-upset.

Courtney McCrary: Utah: The Utes have a lot to play for. As long as they win out they should still be playing in the PAC-12 tournament.

Derek Woods: Utah will slow down the UCLA offense just enough to pull at a win a home.

Britt Zank: UCLA is a bit overrated and Utah can’t afford another loss if they want to stay in the playoff discussion so I think their game is at it’s best and they beat UCLA pretty easily.

Tim Bach: What happened to Utah? They were so good in the early part of the season. The Pac-12 is just stupid this season. Give me the Utes at home.

 

#9 LSU at Ole Miss

David Poole: I think this is going to be an ugly, slow, methodical game. Think SEC power matches of 5-6 years ago (with half the talent). I don’t see a Les Miles led team losing 3 straight. With that, It’ll be a low scoring affair with lots of defensive stops. Points will be at a premium. Tigers steal one in Oxford, 20-16.

Mitch Gatzke: Ole Miss plays well one week and then doesn’t show up the next. It’s hard to pick a team like that. LSU is too good to drop three in a row anyway. Geaux Tigers.

Courtney McCrary: Ole Miss: Both teams have losses to Arkansas, which doesn’t look good. Ole Miss is coming off of a bye week and is a home so I think they will win, but it will be a close game.

Derek Woods: I don’t see LSU losing three straight. Leonard Fournette will get it going on the ground after not cracking 100 rushing yards the past two games. LSU wins going away.

Britt Zank: LSU will go into Ole Miss and win a close one. Leonard Fournette will get back on track as LSU will simply run Ole Miss into submission late in the game.  See this as a 24-17 type of contest.

Tim Bach: Alabama broke LSU and they haven’t been right since. Fournette learned that he was human after all and the entire team lost their confidence. The Landshark defense holds him in check again and Ole Miss gets another big win.

 

#6 Baylor at #8 Oklahoma State

David Poole: If the weather holds, this will should be a classic shootout with little excuses for sloppy play. Baylor got thumped by the Sooners and are itching to get back in the saddle. The Cowboys stared defeat in the face and came away unscathed. Cowpokes get it done in front of the Stillwater faithful.OK State wins a wild one, 56-42.

Mitch Gatzke: Oklahoma State’s defense should clamp down on Baylor the same way Oklahoma did. The Cowboys are a better team and I think they’ll prove it this weekend.

Courtney McCrary: Oklahoma State: Baylor is not 100% and hasn’t won in Stillwater since 1939 and I don’t think it will change this weekend.

Derek Woods: I think the Big 12 will eliminate themselves with these backloaded schedules they all have. Oklahoma State finally slips up against Baylor and loses its first game of the season.

Britt Zank: The Big 12 will completely ruin itself for the playoff hunt as Baylor will go in and beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Tim Bach: The Big 12 is stupider than the Pac-12. We should’ve done an over/under on this game or something because there’s going to be a ton of points scored. I see Oklahoma State getting the win to set up a big showdown with Oklahoma.

 

Spread pick: Purdue +21 at Iowa

David Poole: The Hawkeyes  better not overlook the Boilermakers. This may be a trap game in the making. I think Purdue hangs around longer than expected and cause Iowa not to cover the spread.

Mitch Gatzke: 21 points is a lot for a grinder-type team like Iowa to cover. I’ll take Purdue and the points.

Courtney McCrary: I don’t think that Iowa will cover the spread. Purdue had a dominate passing game and will keep the game close.

Derek Woods: Iowa covers the spread at home against a 2-8 Purdue squad to continue its quest towards the Big Ten title game.

Britt Zank: At home Iowa will roll Purdue 48 to 13.

Tim Bach: Purdue has a pretty potent passing offense so I think they’ll keep it close. Iowa is starting to look to the finish line and will let Purdue sneak in at the end to cover.

Wolverines Avoid Disaster, Outscore the Hoosiers

On Saturday night the Michigan Wolverines were thrown off their game by the Indiana Hoosiers.  Then, they did what good teams do.  They clawed out a 48-41 road win over a weaker team by playing against their nature.

Normally, the defense does the heavy lifting while the offense scores just enough.  So it was encouraging to see the offense go out and win this game on its own.  Too often we’ve seen the offense stagnate as the defense fights to hold on to a lead.  This was not the case Saturday night in Bloomington.

Hoosier running back Jordan Howard ran all over, around and through the Michigan defense like no one else has been able to this season.  The junior went off for 238 yards and two scores on 35 attempts, with a seven-yard touchdown reception to boot.

The Hoosiers, rushing for 307 yards, more than doubled the previous high of 144 yards that the Minnesota Gophers ran for two weeks ago.  It was just the fourth time this season an entire team had rushed for more than 100 yards against Michigan.

For the first time the Wolverines had no answers to the questions that an offense was posing them.  Howard was able to find the edge and turn it upfield with ease to pick up chunks of yardage seemingly every time he was handed the ball.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has received a significant amount of praise this fall, and for good reason.  There’s no doubt his defense is vastly improved from last year and his man-to-man scheme is the biggest reason why.

Durkin has work to do now, though.  Going forward I would anticipate him making some significant strategic changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  He’ll be working on containment drills with his ends and outside linebackers all week.

Durkin cannot allow his bunch to play like they did last Saturday.  If they do, Penn State will make life harder than it needs to be and Ohio State will run them out of the Big House.

Howard’s field day should serve as motivation.  A defense that has played with confidence and energy all season looked confused and flat while failing to stop the Hoosiers.  I didn’t see them flying around the field, making gang tackles.  I didn’t see the lineman and linebackers working together to fill the open running lanes.  I didn’t see the corners locking up like they have been.

Basically, it was a disappointing performance all around from a defense that we’ve come to expect so much from.  Luckily for them, the offense was ready to pick up the slack and secure the win.

Jake Rudock took a gigantic step forward in this game.  Down late, the graduate transfer led his team on a game-tying scoring drive.  It was underthrown, but his 41-yard pass to Jehu Chesson was the play that broke the game.

With that completion the Wolverines were on the doorstep, but still at risk of coming up short.  On fourth and goal with just six seconds left, Rudock threw a pass where only his receiver Chesson could’ve come down with it.  He did and we headed to overtime.

Rudock looked unshakable in the extra time.  In the first frame he hit a wide-open Jake Butt who ran a tremendous route for an easy six, forcing a second session.

On the first play of the second overtime Rudock connected with Amara Darboh in the end zone on a perfectly executed stop-and-go.  The eventual game-winning score caught me by surprise.  The last time we saw that play call (against Utah) Rudock threw it over his receiver’s head.  Again, Rudock is getting better every week whether you’re noticing or not.

Now the focus shifts to Penn State.  The Nittany Lions have had a roller coaster season, taking three tough losses to Temple, Ohio State and Northwestern last week.  They’ll be playing for a raking in front of one of the largest crowds in the country.

The Wolverines better not be looking ahead to the Buckeyes quite yet, or they’ll pay for it.