Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:14 AM
AFTER A STIRRING WEEKEND OF NFL WILD CARD GAMES, THE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME FINALLY TAKES CENTER STAGE TONIGHTAS #1 FLORIDA STATE SQUARES OFF WITH #2 AUBURN AND WE’VE GOT THE IN-DEPTH PREVIEW AHEAD …
PLUS THOSE NFL WILD CARD ROUND WEEKEND RE-CAPS AS WE HAIL THE WINNERS AND LOOK FORWARD TO THIS WEEK’S DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES
By Jim Hurley
Let’s put tonight’s BCS Championship Game in perspective, okay?
The #1 Florida State Seminoles entered this here-and-now College Football Season ranked #1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and sporting odds of 12.5-to-1 to win it all.
In other words, if you’ve got a $100 “ticket” with the FSU Seminoles to win it all and they snag their first title since 1999 then you collect $1,250 … not bad especially when you consider Florida State’s a bulky 10-point betting favorite at press time.
Now swing over to the #2 Auburn side of things where you’ll recall the Tigers were nowhere near the Top 25 at season’s start (while coming off a disastrous 3-9 straight-up season) and if you happened to make a $100 win-it-all wager on this Southeastern Conference crew than you stand to collect $8,000 … yowie!
Okay, so Auburn’s been quick to call itself the “team of destiny” in recent weeks after last-second miracle wins against both Georgia and Alabama – and who’s to argue with a team that sports the country’s top-ranked rushing attack (averaging 335.7 yards per game) – while Florida State’s pounded out 12 of its 13 wins by at least 27 points with the lone exception to the rule the Sems’ 48-34 triumph at Boston College back in late September … yes, call it a case of sheer and utter dominance by Jimbo Fisher’s squad.
But now keep these two other items under your hat (provided by the good folks at ESPN):
Go back the past 10 seasons and you’ll find there’s been three BCS Championship Game matchups between an undefeated team and a one-loss team, and on all three occasions the one-loss team copped the title tilt and all three times they did so by at least 20 points;
Finally, Florida State’s strength of schedule is the worst among any BCS Championship Game team in the last 10 years and the three prior teams that sported next-worst strength-of-schedules all lost to SEC teams (that’s 2006 Ohio State, 2007 Ohio State and 2009 Texas) … just sayin’!
Your attention, please …
Get the BCS Championship Game Side & Totals Winners when you check with us on game-day afternoon any time after 1 p.m. ET as we put a wrap on this College Football season with #1 Florida State vs. #2 Auburn playing for all the marbles with kickoff set for 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday Night on ESPN.
And get Side/Totals winners on this weekend’s NFL Divisional Playoff Games too when you check with us at Jim Hurley’s Network either right here online at www.vegassportsmasters.com or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155 – and get all the Hoop Winners every day too!
THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT –
THE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME -- at Pasadena, CA
#1 FLORIDA STATE (13-0) vs. #2 AUBURN (12-1) – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s safe to say that this year’s final BCS Championship Game – it’s bye-bye after 16 years and hello next year to a four-team College Football Playoff – has just about everything one could ask for what with Florida State unbeaten and sporting this year’s Heisman Trophy-winning QB Jameis Winston (3,820 yards passing with 38 TDs and 10 INTs), while here’s an Auburn crew that literally came out of nowhere to emerge as the hottest side around (heck, even Florida State can’t lay claim to Auburn’s feat of having covered its last 10 consecutive games!).
Still, if the SEC is gonna win an eighth straight BCS Championship Game, then first-year head coach Gus Malzahn’s team has to do a few things here:
First off, the Tigers – who average 40.2 points per game with its snazzy triple read-option, hurry-up attack must do everything in its power to keep its 85th-ranked defense off the field for long periods of time.
No, we don’t necessarily believe Malzahn will ask his club to let its foot off the gas pedal on offense here, but you will see some times when QB Nick Marshall (1,759 yards passing and 1,023 yards rushing while accounting for 23 TDs) bleeds the clock a bit at the line of scrimmage and makes Florida State defenders stay in place – still, anything less than 50 combined rushes by Marshall and RB Tre Mason (1,621 yards rushing and 22 TDs) is bad because no matter how you dissect this title tilt, the Tigers must run the ball here, win clock and convert half (or more) of their third-down plays if they’re gonna stand a chance.
On the flip side, Florida State allowed just 93 rushing yards per game, but consider that mark a tad skewed as most teams spent lots of time chuckin’ it against the FSU defense. Still, LB Telvin Smith (75 tackles this year) figures to be a make-or-break player in this clash as his ability to contain Mason/Marshall from banging out seven, eight yards a carry is critical.
Hey, no sense “hiding the lead” here, and that’s Winston who barged out of the starting gate this season with that sensational 25-of-27, 356-yard, 4-TD performance in a 41-13 win at Pittsburgh as this redshirt freshman is truly special.
If Winston – who started slowly but roared back to throw for 330 yards and 3 TDs in a 45-7 win/cover against Duke in the ACC Championship Game – can shake off early-game jitters/nerves here, then Auburn could be in major trouble considering there are three FSU receivers who snagged 900-plus yards in grabs, including ultra-strong WR Kelvin Benjamin, who averaged 19.1 yards per catch on his 50 receptions this year.
If both these teams play to their offensive strengths, then the current totals price of 68 points might appear a bit meek – but consider that Auburn needs to somehow pile up double-digit play drives here while Florida State needs to expose an Auburn pass defense that ranked 97th in the land.
Winston’s been terrific this year … while Auburn’s been a bit magical.
The stage is set … are you gonna do it again, SEC?
Spread Notes – Florida State is 11-2 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and keep in mind the Seminoles covered six-of-seven games played against fellow bowl squads. In all, the Seminoles – who were favored in each/every one of their games this 2013 season – enter this tilt at 10-4 versus the vig when playing non-ACC foes while going back the past four seasons and – believe it or not – Florida State has covered its last nine consecutive bowl games. Meanwhile, Auburn is also 11-2 vig-wise this year and that includes a dazzling 7-2 ATS mark against fellow bowl teams. Note the Tigers – who were a perfect 5-and-oh spreadwise as underdogs this year with outright wins against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama and Missouri – have notched spread wins in four of their last five bowl games while dating back to the 2006 season.
BCS National Championship Game
We come to the end of the line in college football Monday night with Florida State vs. Auburn. One year ago, the Network stood in this same spot and our handicapping team rose to the challenging in delivering Alabama (-9) over Notre Dame 42-14.
That was Jim's 6th Championship Game Winner in the last 8 for 75%!
THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND IN REVIEW (AND WHAT LIES AHEAD THIS WEEKEND IN THE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS)
Go ahead and raise your hand if you had the Colts, Saints, Chargers and 49ers all getting NFL Playoff Wild Card wins this past weekend … thought so!
Hey, every year this opening weekend of NFL post-season play brings its share of surprises/themes and while road teams banged out wins in three of the four games, how ‘bout the fact that we had games decided by 1, 2 and 3 points … and the lone “blowout” was the biggest underdog on the board (7-point pup San Diego) winning by 17 points?
The bottom line is that any/all teams from the AFC North, the NFC East and the NFC North are officially “gonzo” from this year’s post-season as we’ll have a pair of NFC South vs. NFC West matchups on this weekend’s card along with a couple of old pals from the AFC West tangling against one another – but how about it’s the first time ever that San Diego and Denver will play one another in the post-season?
Here’s some quickie comments on all four NFL Wild Card Games followed by an early-bird look at what’s straight ahead:
Last Saturday, it was …
INDIANAPOLIS 45, KANSAS CITY 44 – No doubt the injuries that piled up on the Chiefs’ side came back to roost as the opening-series loss of RB Jamaal Charles (head) was a killer and CB Brandon Flowers was dearly missed, too... but can someone tell us whatever happened to the KC pass rush that was once-upon-a-time so fierce this year and yet managed just one sack of Indy QB Andrew Luck?
The Colts scored TDs on 5-of-6 red-zone trips – yes, the Luck recovery of a goal-line fumble and subsequent TD was pure luck indeed – plus it’s about time wide-out T.Y. Hilton (13 receptions for 224 yards and two TDs) started to get mentioned with the league’s elite.
NEW ORLEANS 26, PHILADELPHIA 24 – No more talk about the Saints’ inability to win a playoff road game or to play in cold weather, but the truth of the matter is the Birds blew it when they didn’t take full advantage of those two QB Drew Brees INTs in the first half of this prime-time tilt – maybe Philly should have allowed QB Nick Foles to chuck it deep more – but the biggest “hats off” here goes to Saints DC Rob Ryan, who bottled up Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (21 carries for 77 yards) who never did go for a run longer than 11 yards … hmmm.
On Sunday, it was …
SAN DIEGO 27, CINCINNATI 10 – The one-and-only “new” head coach to win a wild card game turned out to be SD’s Mike McCoy as both KC’s Andy Reid and Philly’s Chip Kelly were losers and give McCoy (and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt) credit for holding onto the no-huddle portion of the Chargers’ offense as that look to start the second half baffled the Bengals who otherwise did a pretty good job of self-destructing on their own – no crying about your two INTs and lost fumble, Mr. Andy Dalton!
SAN FRANCISCO 23, GREEN BAY 20 – It was quite the heavyweight title fight down the stretch with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers directing an 11-play, 61-yard drive capped by PK Mason Crosby’s field goal to tie it at 20-20, but who knew that Mike McCarthy’s club was never gonna see the ball again in the final 5:06?
The ultra-clutch pass/run plays made by San Fran signal-caller Colin Kaepernick proved to be his “finest hour” in the NFL (227 yards passing and 98 yards rushing) and kudos to vet PK Phil Dawson for his game-winning 33-yarder that barely escaped the fingertips of one Green Bay kick-block specialist.
Most overlooked part of the Niners’ wild card win? They only allowed one TD in all to Green Bay wide outs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
In Saturday’s upcoming NFL Divisional Playoffs, it’s …
NEW ORLEANS (12-5) at SEATTLE (13-3) – 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
No need to remind Brees and the N’Orleans Saints of their 34-7 loss in Seattle back on Dec. 2nd.
The host Seahawks – who lost just one home game this year (to Arizona in Week 16) – bottled up the high-octane Saints offense that Monday Night, but now there’s a bit of different twist here with New Orleans rushing the football to the tune of 185 yards in Saturday’s down-to-the-wire 26-24 win at 3-point favorite Philadelphia.
The Saints averaged a haughty 5.1 yards a run in that first-ever playoff road win with RB Mark Ingram (18 carries for 97 yards) the main headliner, and it’s no doubt critical that Sean Payton’s crew keeps the heat off Brees with another 125-plus yard ground game here.
Note the Seahawks figure to test Saints CB Keenan Lewis (head), who desperately wanted back in to that wild card triumph in Philly, but odds are this game plan will call for Seattle QB Russell Wilson to run it six or seven times on sweeps/draws – can Saints’ LB Curtis Lofton “control” Wilson here?
INDIANAPOLIS (12-5) at NEW ENGLAND (12-4) – 8 p.m. ET, CBS
Gotta believe that this year’s playoff bye for the Patriots was a major plus as QB Tom Brady needed some rest time and that overworked secondary needed to brush up on how to handle the aforementioned Hilton and the pass-first Colts.
It’s worth noting that Bill Belichick’s crew has split its last six playoff home games dating back to 2009, but the Pats have won/covered home Divisional Playoff games each of the past two years and the extra time here should help a D-line that was running on fumes late in the regular season.
Magic number here? Brady probably needs to throw for 300-plus yards against this wobbly Colts defense … now wouldn’t it be something if Indy PK AdamVinatieri haunted his old team one mo’ time?
In Sunday’s NFL Divisional Playoffs, it’s …
SAN FRANCISCO (13-4) at CAROLINA (12-4) – 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Maybe the biggest mystery at the #1 or #2 seed are these Carolina Panthers, who played plenty of close games this year (Ron Rivera’s team won five games by four points or less), but now here’s QB Cam Newton facing a top-flight defense that’s already seen ‘em once this year in that Week 10 win by Carolina 10-9 in Frisco.
The Niners – who now have won four playoff games in three years under head coach Jim Harbaugh – must do something to steer Carolina LB Luke Kuechley off his mark, and that might mean lots of play-action fakes by Kaepernick here. Hey, WR Michael Crabtree (125 yards receiving) was a legit star on the frosty tundra of Lambeau Field last week and maybe he’s “this year’s” Anquan Boldin.
SAN DIEGO (10-7) at DENVER (13-3) – 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS
If Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers laughingly would like to call this “Round 6” of his team’s playoff quest, let ‘em have some fun as the Bolts have been life-and-death for weeks now and must do the almost unthinkable here and that’s beat Denver at home twice in a single season.
Okay, so the Broncos set just about every offensive record known to NFL mankind this year with QB Peyton Manning tossing 55 TD passes (and only 10 INTs) but Denver’s O-line was hardly a thing of stability down the stretch and so maybe some well-timed/well-schemed blitzes will unnerve Manning here.
The Chargers won Round I in the Mile High City 27-20 and you might recall the 10-point underdogs possessed the ball for some 38:49 in that prime-time tilt while and didn’t commit a single turnover.
NOTE: Get our BCS Championship Game Preview re-cap in the next Jim Sez.