Top 25 – Week 14
By Phil Steele
A week after an outstanding 17-4 81% record for my Top 25 forecasts, last week’s results are very surprising at just 12-7 63%. Still, on the year they are now 209-49 81%! On the bottom of the forecasts, I have also listed some Upset Specials for this week which look to bounce back this week.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
GEORGIA DOME (Atlanta, GA)
#2 ALABAMA VS #3 GEORGIA
In what is, in essence, a national title semifinal, the winner here will advance to play #1 Notre Dame in the national champ game in Miami on January 7th. These two have not played since ‘08 when #8 Bama beat #3 Georgia on the road 41-30, a game that many Bama fans point to as one of the key wins which got the Crimson Tide’s recent run of dominance started. The Tide/Bulldogs have played just 6 times in the last 20 years (3-3 split) and have not met here in the SEC Championship game. In fact, this is the Tide’s 8th appearance in the SEC Title game (3-4) but first against a team other than UF. UGA makes its second straight trip here and its fifth appearance in the Richt era (2-2). While not many can argue that these two don’t deserve to be here as Bama beat LSU on the road 21-17 and UGA handed UF its only loss 17-9 (thanks to 6 UF TO’s), it should be noted that both benefitted from rather fortunate SEC scheduling as UGA skipped out on the top 3 teams in the West (Bama, LSU and A&M) while Bama didn’t play the top 3 teams in the East (UGA, UF and SC). Both come in off blowout wins of their rivals as Bama crushed Auburn 49-0 (most lopsided Iron Bowl in 64 years) rolling up 25-7 FD and 483-163 yard edges and led 42-0 at the half. Meanwhile, UGA rolled to a 42-10 win over GT as they led 42-3 midway through the 3Q but were outgained 426-379 and outFD’d 26-18. They did average an astonishing 10.5 yards per play in the 1H. Both teams are led by veteran QB’s as Murray and McCarron are #1-2 in the NCAA in pass eff and have combined for a 55-9 ratio! They also have stout D’s as while Bama’s ranks #1 in most categories, one could argue that UGA’s is more talented and since S Williams called out the D prior to the UF game, they’ve allowed just 9 ppg in the last 5 games. The Bama D did give up 400+ yards in back-to-back games vs LSU/A&M earlier this year while UGA OC Bobo has called this UGA offense the best he’s ever seen as they are avg a school record 38 ppg. While each has Top 20 units on both offense and defense, Bama does have the significant ST’s edge (#22-71) and Saban is 7-2 in his last 9 games vs Top 20 teams while Richt is 1-6 in his last 7.
PHIL’S FORECAST: ALABAMA 27 GEORGIA 23
#7 Kansas St vs #23 Texas
Last year UT was out to avenge 2010’s 39-14 spanking on the road. In the ‘10 game, UT had finished with a 412-290 yard edge but trailed 24-0 at the half and got a garbage td with :31 left. Last year KSU QB Klein was sacked 5 times and hit just 9-17 passes. However, just before the half KSU would get a td to lead 10-3. UT settled for a 26 yard FG and ended up losing 17-13 despite the large stat edges (310-121 yard, 15-9 FD). Even though they won, KSU HC Snyder said after the game about the UT D, “they just beat the tar out of us.” Texas is just 2-6 in the series with their largest wins by 4 and 3 points and their avg loss by 18.5 ppg!!! The Horns lost to TCU 20-13 on Thanksgiving as UT finished with a 22-15 FD edge but TO’s doomed them as QB Ash had 3 including int’s at the TCU1 and 6 and a fumble which set up a 16 yard Frog td drive. McCoy (11-17-119-0-1) played in both halves and led a 4Q td drive after Ash (ribs) left the game for good. All 7 of Ash’s int’s this year have come in the opponent’s redzone (223, 68%, 17-7). KSU had the bye to get over their bubble bursting loss to Baylor which likely cost them a chance at the national title. The Cats can clinch their first Big 12 title since ‘03 with a win here and keep QB Klein (210, 67%, 14-6, 787 rush, 20 td) in the Heisman hunt. The Cats have been outgained by their last 4 opponents by 68 ypg but the FBS’s best TO margin (+21) kept the win streak alive until Baylor where they had a negative TO margin (-1) for just the second time this year. Snyder is off of a loss with extra time to game plan during the bye, but the dog rules this series. While Texas makes it a game, it’s tough going against Snyder here.
PHIL’S FORECAST: KANSAS ST 24 TEXAS 20
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
STANFORD STADIUM (Stanford, CA)
#9 STANFORD VS #17 UCLA (Friday)
It’s Déjà vu all over again here as these two meet for the second consecutive week. UCLA had a run of 5 wins in this series from ‘04-’08 but Stanford is now 4-0 winning by an avg of 35-13 (+87 ypg). Last week, while the Bruins had the Pac-12 South Division already wrapped up, SU needed a win to get here and played like it (also, I think deep down UCLA would have preferred a trip here instead of a trip to Autzen which would have happened had the Bruins won). The Cardinal led 21-10 at the half and blew the game open in the 3Q. After a UCLA int, they drove 42/4pl for a td, then the Bruins fumbled the ensuing KO and SU returned it 11 yards for a td, 35-10 (7:28). The yards were relatively close at 381-334 (Game Recap). The difference between Stanford’s play recently can be attributed to rFr QB Hogan who is completing 73% of his passes with an 8-3 ratio and gives D’s an added dimension to defend as he can run. Coming into the year, many questioned whether the Cardinal could do it without QB Luck but there’s no question now that SU’s physical play on both sides of the line of scrimmage in a spread heavy, up-tempo Pac-12 has allowed them to achieve 3 straight 10 win seasons for the first time in school history. UCLA HC Mora, Jr has done a masterful job in his first year awakening what I felt was a “Sleeping Giant” in CFB helping the Bruins achieve 9 wins for the first time since ‘05. He’s done it with a rFr QB in Hundley who is avg 270 ypg (68%) with a 26-10 ratio while RB Franklin has 1,506 (6.1) and an attacking D that has 40 sks (SU #1 in NCAA with 53 sks). While most will be expecting the same results as last week, keep in mind at home this year despite its 6-0 record, Stanford is only outgaining its foes by 15 ypg. In his post game presser, SU HC Shaw said, “I expect them to give us everything. It’s going to be 10 times harder than this game was. We’re going to get their best shot.” I agree as this one will be decided by a td or less.
PHIL’S FORECAST: STANFORD 28 UCLA 24
#12 Oklahoma at TCU
There have been just 2 recent meetings and the Frogs lost 10-9 here in ‘98 before pulling the huge upset at #7 OU in the ‘05 opener winning 17-10. OU is off of the first OT game in Bedlam history, a 51-48 comeback win over Oklahoma St. Despite 44-23 FD and 618-490 yard edges the Sooners never led OSU in regulation tying the game on a 1 yard 4th down td run with :04 left. After holding the Cowboys to a FG in OT, the Sooners’ Clay broke 2 tackles on the game-winning 18 yard td run. Big 12’s all-time passing leader Jones (345 ypg, 66%, 27-9) has thrown for more than 500 yards while leading 4Q comebacks in back-to-back games becoming the first FBS QB to throw for 3,000 yards and 26 td’s in 4 different years. The Sooners are #9 pass eff D (195, 51%, 8-12) but their base 4-2-5 D has struggled vs the run allowing 200+ yards six times this year and in the last 3 games they’ve allowed 304 rush ypg (6.6). On Thanksgiving the Frogs took advantage of 4 Horns TO’s in beating Texas 20-13. On UT’s first 4 possessions QB Ash was int’d at the TCU6 and 1, the Horns settled for a 25 yard FG after driving to the TCU8 and then Ash fumbled at the UT16 which set the Frogs up for a td. Even though Texas finished with a 22-15 FD edge, TCU finished with a 217-86 rush yard edge. Oddly, the Frogs and QB Boykin (162 ypg, 59%, 14-9, 344 rush) are 4-1 on the road in Big 12 play but are 0-3 at home in their newly refurbished stadium. Frosh DE Fields leads the Big 12 in sks (9) and tfl (17.5) as the Frogs lead the conference in total D (324). The Sooners still have a shot at the Big 12 Title and automatic BCS bid if they win here while KSU loses. Scoreboard watching won’t be a factor however as this game is being played at 11 am CT while the KSU/Texas game kicks off at 7 pm CT.
PHIL’S FORECAST: OKLAHOMA 31 TCU 24
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM (Charlotte, NC)
#13 Florida St vs Georgia Tech
FSU is making its second trip here in the last 3 years (lost 44-33 to VT) and just its 3rd appearance in the ACC Championship game ever while GT is also making its 3rd appearance (1-1). These two have not played since ‘09 and after losing 12 straight to the Noles under Johnson, GT has won 2 straight including 49-44 at FSU in that last meeting. This will be the first time though that Fisher sees the GT option as HC along with DC Stoops. Both teams come in off of embarrassing losses to their SEC rivals as GT, despite outgaining (426-379) and outFD’ing UGA (26-18), lost 42-10 as they gave up 10.5 yards per play in the 1H and fell behind 42-3 in the mid-3Q! FSU found themselves down 13-0 late 2Q before rallying to take a 20-13 lead over UF. However, they were doomed by 5 TO’s and allowed the Gators to score 24 4Q points in a devastating 37-26 loss that crushed what slim chances they had left of playing for the national title. QB Manuel picked a bad time to have his worst game of the season as he completed just 18-33-182-1-3 and also accounted for a key fumble late (shaken up on play but returned) that allowed UF to take the lead for good. The D which entered #1 in the country, was also disappointing as they allowed a season-high 244 rush yards which is not a good thing entering a week when you’re taking on the option. However, their issues pale in comparison to GT’s as the Jackets, who fired their DC at midseason, have allowed 40+ in 6 games this year. FSU has the edges across the board (offense #10-23, defense #5-53, ST’s #2-66) and vs the 6 common opp FSU is 6-0 outscoring them by an avg of 42-18 (505-283 yard edge) while GT is 3-3 outscoring its foes 33-27 (434-396 yard edge). While one might think that FSU may come in flat, the fact is that they have an opportunity to lock up their first trip to the BCS since ‘05 and after a couple of series adjusting to the option, their speedy LB’s will take over.
PHIL’S FORECAST: FLORIDA ST 41 GEORGIA TECH 27
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
LUCAS OIL STADIUM (Indianapolis, IN)
#14 Nebraska vs Wisconsin
Since NU joined the Big Ten last year these teams have met twice with the home team 2-0. They met in the Big Ten opener on Sept 29th with the Huskers rallying from a 17 point deficit to win 30-27 with 24-17 FD and 440-295 yard edges. NU trailed 27-10 in the 3Q but scored 20 points on 4 straight poss while holding the Badgers in check (Game Recap). RB Ball lost his first career fumble at the UW49 which ended the Badgers final possession. Due to OSU and PSU’s post season bans UW clinched the spot in this game on Nov 10th with their huge 62-14 win over Indiana. Since then the Badgers are 0-2 losing to both the Bucks and Lions. UW tied both of those games in the final :20 of regulation on a td pass only to lose it in OT. QB Phillips (129 ypg, 53%, 4-1) has been steady with the job description basically to avoid TO’s and hand the ball off to the FBS’s new career td leader Ball (1593, 5.0). UW’s top tackler LB Borland (hamstring) has missed the last 2 but is expected to return here to help a solid run D (111, 3.4) vs the Big Ten’s top offense. The Huskers clinched their spot in Indy with a 13-7 Black Friday win over Iowa. On a chilly day with wind gusts up to 40 mph NU trailed 7-3 at the break and didn’t take the lead until late 3Q thanks to the return of RB Burkhead (69, 4.3) who teamed with Martinez to give the Hawks a 200-108 rush yard edge. Big Ten pass eff leader Martinez (207, 63%, 21-8, 833 rush) has led five 2H comeback wins this year with his top target being big play threat Bell (789, 17.9). NU allows 166 rush ypg (4.2). Even though the Huskers clinched their spot in this game 2 weeks after the Badgers expect more NU fans to pack Indy as this has been considered a down season for Wisconsin after back-to-back Big Ten Titles while the Huskers have a chance to win their first league title since ‘99.
#16 Oregon St vs Nicholls St
This game was originally scheduled for September 1st but was moved here due to Hurricane Isaac, which forced the NSU campus to close. The 1-9 Nicholls St Colonels have suffered through a rough 2012 with a 1-9 overall record including zero conference wins for the second season in a row. NSU is being outscored by an avg score of 35-19 and outgained 433-350. The Colonels’ D ranks #102 FCS in total D led by 2nd Tm SLC LB Piper (102 tackles, 5 tfl). The pass eff D ranks #87 in the FCS as they allow 244 ypg (61%) with an 11-20 ratio. The offense is not much better, coming in at #80 in the FCS. QB Landry Klann is avg 189 ypg (57%) with an 8-12 ratio and has spread the ball around with 4 players over 20 rec’s incl 2nd Tm SLC TE Nick Scelfo (#3 with 285, 13.6, 2 td). Top rusher Marcus Washington has tallied just 550 yards (5.1) with 6 td’s. In a Civil War battle that featured two ranked teams for just the fourth time in its 116 year history, Oregon St only trailed 20-17 early 3Q but imploded in the 2H with 5 TO’s, 3 of which led to UO scores. On the day the Beavers were only outFD’d 25-22 but were outgained 570-393. QB Mannion (277 ypg, 63%, 13-13) hit 31-49-311 but tossed 4 int’s. His top target, 1st Tm Pac-12 Wheaton (76, 14.3, 10) is #13 FBS in rec ypg. The Beavers #21 D is led by 1st Tm Pac-12 DE Scott Crichton who leads the squad with 16 tfl and top tacklers Rashaad Reynolds (HM Pac-12, 16 pd) and Michael Doctor (10.5 tfl, 5 pd) who come in tied with 70. The #86 ST’s also boasts a 1st Tm All-Pac-12 honoree in Jordan Jenkins who is just the second in OSU history to be named a 1st Tm by the conference for his special teams work (Suaesi Tuimaunei, ‘09). Taking on an FBS team this late in the season is too much for an already struggling program and the Beavers get an easy win here.
MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
FORD FIELD (Detroit, MI)
#18 Kent St vs #19 Northern Illinois (Friday)
This will mark the first time the MAC Championship has featured two Top 25 teams and is also the first matchup of MAC Top 25 teams since ‘03. This is the Huskies 3rd straight appearance in the MAC Championship game and they will be going for back-to-back championships here after rallying from a 20-0 deficit last year to beat Ohio 23-20]. This is Kent’s 1st appearance. NI has won the last 5 meetings by an avg of 31-11 and last year the Huskies beat Kent at home 40-10 and held them to just 64 total yards. Kent’s only td came off a 36 yard FR td as the Golden Flashes did not complete a pass in the 1H. This year both teams come in on hot streaks as NI has won 11 consecutive games since their opening game loss to Iowa by a point while Kent has won 10 straight after a loss to Kentucky. Last week both already had their division titles wrapped up and did not have much to play for other than pride and poll position but both came away with impressive wins. NI hammered EM 49-7 on a snow-covered field as they had 24-15 FD and 415-227 yd edges. RB Daniels had a career-high 4 td’s and QB Lynch, one week after becoming the 1st player in NCAA history with a 400+ pass/150+ rush game, had 275 total yds. Kent continued its best season in school history (90 years) with a 28-6 win over Ohio. Kent jumped out to a 21-0 1Q lead and despite being outFD’d 22-15, the game was never in doubt as the Kent D finished with 8 sacks. Kent has used the same formula all season on offense as they use the 6’0” 250 lb RB Durham (1176, 5.0, 14 td) early to wear down opposing D’s then insert the speedy Archer (1337, 9.7!, 14 td) as a change of pace to catch the D off guard. Their QB Keith is nothing more than a game manager as he is just #87 in the NCAA in pass eff (11-7 ratio). While their D (#74) has been nothing spectacular giving up 410 ypg, they have forced 35 TO’s (#2 in the NCAA). While I appreciate the job HC Hazell has done this year and the ball has seemed to bounce their way, the fact is that NI has all of the talent edges (offense #29-51, defense #49-75, ST’s #38-76) and clearly has the better QB as Lynch leads the NCAA in rush yards among QB’s (1611, 6.9, 16 td). Also against their 6 common opponents each went 6-0 but NI was +95 ypg while Kent was +6 ypg. The Huskies make it back-to-back MAC Titles!
#24 Oklahoma St at Baylor
OSU is 6-0 vs Baylor winning by an avg of 30 ppg and has won the last 2 here. Last year at home they won 59-24. It was a bit of a strange game as OSU led 35-0 at the half but BU had 5 blown opportunities being SOD at the 1, missing a 48 yard FG, int’d in the EZ from the 5, SOD at the 32 and int’d at the OSU26. BU finished with a 622-601 yard edge but trailed 49-3 into the 4Q with BU gaining 234 yards in the 4Q. The Cowboys will be salty after blowing a double-digit 2H lead to their rival in a 51-48 OT loss to Oklahoma, the first OT game in Bedlam history. The Sooners finished with 618-490 yard and 44-23 FD edges but missed a 32 yard FG, had a long IR set up a 9 yard td drive, settled for FG’s of 25 and 30, fumbled at the OSU14 and were SOD at the OSU33. OU drove 90/17pl for a td on 4th & goal with :04 left to tie it. After OSU kicked a FG in OT, the Sooners got the game-winning 18 yard td run for their first lead in the game. For the second straight game OSU used QB’s Chelf (19-37-253-1-1, 63 rush) with the more mobile Walsh to run the short yard/goal line off. BU became bowl eligible for a 3rd straight season for the first time in school history after knocking off Texas Tech 52-45 in OT. The Bears were stopped on downs at the TT2 in the 1H and missed 3 FG’s including a 48 yarder on the final play of regulation but still were able to rally from a 14 point deficit. TT helped the cause with 4 TO’s including a 55 yard IR td which gave BU its first lead of the game. The Bears finished with a 674-567 yard edge and after scoring a td on their OT possession held TT to a 4&out. QB Florence (348, 61%, 30-13) pilots the nation’s #1 off and RB Seastrunk’s emergence (618 total yards and 6 td’s) has given the Bears big play threats on both the ground and in the air with the nation’s leading rec Williams (1693, 19.0). Bears have a TO margin of +13 in their wins and -9 in their losses. Both teams come in hot as this game will be for a better bowl destination.
#25 Boise St at Nevada
The last time BSU traveled to Reno, 2 missed FG’s cost them an undefeated season and a BCS bowl berth as they lost 34-31 in OT. Last year they were out for revenge but QB Moore was wearing a knee brace and hit a career low 19-33-142 and BSU “only” won 30-10. BSU led 20-0 at the half with a 187-50 yard edge. The home team has won 3 in a row but Boise is 11-1 in the series and prior to their upset loss in 2010 had won 4 in a row here in Nevada by 26 ppg. BSU can clinch a 3-way share of their first (and possibly last) MW crown with a win here. This isn’t your father’s Broncos squad however as they’re doing it almost exclusively on D as they’ve held their last 9 opponents to seven 1H points and for the year they have my #26 D allowing just 293 ypg and 14.4 ppg. QB Southwick (206, 66%, 15-7) is supported by dependable RB Harper (935, 5.0, 14 td). In their previous 4 contests vs bowl eligible teams this year, BSU is avg just 14.8 ppg and 270 ypg. This is the 7-4 Wolfpack’s possible last shot at the team they see as their top out of state rival (although rumors have been swirling about Boise and others talking to the MW). QB Fajardo (233 ypg, 66%, 17-7, 900 rush, 5.9) and the FBS’s #2 rusher Jefferson (1564, 5.0, 20 td) headline the only offense in the FBS that has scored 30+ points in every game this season. The problem has been a D (my #103) that has allowed 33 ppg and 213 rush ypg (5.1). With both teams pretty much locked into their bowl destinations (BSU to Las Vegas, UN to New Mexico) the Broncos finish the conference slate with another W.
PHIL’S FORECAST: BOISE ST 30 NEVADA 23
UPSET OF THE WEEK:
CUSA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
H.A. CHAPMAN STADIUM (Tulsa, OK)
UCF is 2-4 vs Tulsa having met in 2 CUSA Title games (‘05 inaugural &‘07 played twice). UCF has lost its only 2 trips here including 2 weeks ago where the Knights were outFD’d 26-14 and outgained 461-235 in a 23-21 loss (Game Recap). Despite coming in with much better numbers on the season QB Bortles was outplayed by TU QB Green as the Hurricane had constant pressure on him (4 sacks). Last week UCF was in a must-win situation to lock up the East and they beat UAB 49-24 thanks to All-Everything McDuffie who had 3 rushing td’s. Meanwhile, Tulsa already having the CUSA Championship game locked, up fell to SMU 35-27. The Golden Hurricane found themselves down 35-6 in the 3Q before a furious rally had them come just 1 yard short as the last play of the game was a 34 yard pass down to the one. QB Green was sensational completing a career-high 36-64-413-3-1. A quick glance at both teams box scores from last week may have me leaning with Tulsa as they outgained SMU in the loss 591-305 while UCF was outgained 599-473 in a win. However, keep in mind that UCF was up big throughout the game last week while Tulsa was down big which accounts for many of those yards. Just like two weeks ago, both of these teams are eerily similar as they are both 9-3 and the offenses (Tulsa #41-50) and defenses (Tulsa #37-45) are close talent-wise. I expect the game to come down to the wire again and it should be noted that UCF has the big ST’s edge (#23-75).
PHIL’S FORECAST: UCF 27 TULSA 26
For a projected box score for the games listed above, please click here.
ANOTHER UPSET OF THE WEEK:
Connecticut over Cincinnati
Phil Steele is a college football analyst who has been publishing his annual College Football Preview since 1995. His magazine is regarded as one of the best in the business.