Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 12:00 AM
IT’S A MONSTER FOOTBALL WEEKEND ON TAP
AS COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
GAMES TAKE CENTER STAGE ON FRIDAY/SATURDAY …
PLUS THE NFL WEEK 14 REPORT:
UNDER-THE-RADAR KEYS IN
STEELERS-BENGALS & CHIEFS-CARDS
Okay, so this may be a whole new age in the College Football world — the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Era is bye-bye and we’re in Year One of the College Football Playoffs (CFP) — but we’ve all been down this road before when it comes to make-or-break conference championship games.
We can go on and recite all the teams the past 17 years that cost themselves a spot in the BCS Championship Game with a loss on this first weekend in December and that includes plenty of top-ranked teams.
Heck, just last year in this very Jim Sez column space we wondered aloud what might happen if Ohio State lost to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship Game — and as forecast the winner of the SEC Championship Game (Auburn 59, Missouri 42) galloped right on through that opening and into the national championship game.
Now, we fast forward to the here-and-now and the possibilities are plentiful:
The new format that calls for the four top-ranked teams meet -- #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 -- in this year’s Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl games and so while it’s no longer an exclusive #1 vs. #2 title game, still gotta believe that losses by any of the top four clubs (maybe save for Alabama) will cost ‘em a playoff berth.
So that makes the likes of #6 Baylor a very interested bystander even though some in-the-know folks believe the Bears’ latest ranking — three spots behind fellow Big 12 rival TCU — is writing-on-the-wall stuff.
But then who would make the grade in the “final four” if, let’s say, #2 Oregon lost to #7 Arizona in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game… or if #4 Florida State (12-0) lost to #11 Georgia Tech in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game?
Then the playoff spots — in some shape or manner — would go to Alabama, TCU, Arizona and the Big 10 winner either Ohio State vs. Wisconsin.
Now, let’s touch on Friday night’s two conference championship games with a reminder that we’ll preview Saturday’s action in tomorrow’s edition of Jim Sez:
On Friday, it’s…
MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Ford Field — Detroit, MI
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (10-2, 7-1 MAC) vs. BOWLING GREEN (7-5, 5-3 MAC) — 7 p.m. ET, espn2
This is the fifth consecutive year that the NIU Huskies captured the MAC West crown and, believe it or not, Northern Ill’s 0-3-1 ATS (against the spread) in these four prior MAC Championship Games although the Dawgs beat Ohio and Kent State in the 2011 and ’12 tilts.
If Northern Illinois QB Drew Hare (two TD runs in last week’s come-from-way-behind 31-21 win/cover at 8 ½-point favorite Western Michigan) plays to his season numbers of 15 TDs and 1 INT, then Rod Carey’s club will nail down this bash but Bowling Green’s counting on RBs Travis Greene (803 yards rushing) and Fred Coppet (653 rushing yards) to stoke the upset alert here. Both Greene and Coppet rushed for more than 100 yards in last Friday’s home loss to 10-point dog Ball State
Spread Notes — Bowling Green is 12-8-1 ATS as a dog since the start of the 2011 campaign while Northern Illinois is 16-9-1 spreadwise in league games the past three seasons.
Here’s the last 4 Mid-American Conference Championship Games all involving Northern Illinois:
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Levi’s Stadium — Santa Clara, CA
#7 ARIZONA (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) vs. #2 OREGON (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) — 9 p.m. ET, Fox
Talk about the opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone”!
The Oregon Ducks want revenge for that troubling 31-24 loss to Arizona way back on Oct. 2nd and — of course — the green-and-gold gang wants one of those four playoff berths and remember that Oregon’s been sitting snuggly in the #2 spot for the past four weeks in a row.
No doubt that second-year Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has the Ducks on a major roll with seven consecutive SU (straight-up) wins/ATS wins after that aforementioned loss to the U of A and whether or not the Ducks get revenge here greatly depends on whether or not Heisman Trophy frontrunner QB Marcus Mariota can steer clear of the costly turnover.
Note that Mariota — who’s accounted for 36 passing TDs, 11 rushing scores and one receiving TD this season — has committed six turnovers in his three career games against the Wildcats and that includes the key late game sack/strip in this year’s meeting by Arizona LB Scooby Wright who could be getting his fair share of Heisman Trophy votes too.
The ‘Cats have banged out back-to-back 42-point outings in wins against Utah and Arizona State the past couple of weeks but note QB Anu Solomon (knee) is still far from 100 percent and so you might see USC transfer Jesse Scroggins get some snaps here against an Oregon defense that ranks 107th nationally against the pass.
Spread Notes — Oregon is 24-12-1 ATS in conference play since the start of the 2011 season. Arizona has covered 4-of-6 games when in the role of double-digit underdog in the Rich Rodriguez Era.
Here’s the three Pac-12 Championship Games (home teams in CAPS):
My handicappers and bloggers have everything all scoped out and you can get the College Football Conference Championship Games plus other key regular-season tilts and also all the NFL Week 14 games too beginning with tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys at the Chicago Bears when you check with us here at the red-hot Jim Hurley’s Network — make sure you’re all aboard for the week/weekend action online here at www.jimhurley.com or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.
NFL WEEK 14 NOTEBOOK
Here’s some under-the-radar keys to this week’s games:
PITTSBURGH (7-5) at CINCINNATI (8-3-1) — The right wrist/hand injury suffered last weekend by Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger remains a central focus for this key AFC North game but what about Cincy slinger Andy Dalton who struggled through a three-INT game for the second time in the past four weeks.
Reports said Dalton was “under the weather” last week but he aired picks without pressure — the Bengals have been great at protecting Dalton who has been sacked just 14 times as no other NFL quarterback has been sacked less than Denver’s Peyton Manning.
Can the Steelers minus DL Brett Keisel (torn triceps/out for year) get to Dalton this weekend?
KANSAS CITY (7-5) at ARIZONA (9-3) — The Cardinals were the once-upon-a-time toast of the NFL this year but now they’ve lost back-to-back games for the first time since early 2013 and QB Drew Stanton has only 3 TDs with 5 INTs in the three games after starter Carson Palmer went down… can the Cards survive this rugged sked the rest of the way with a career backup in the saddle?
Well, that leads us to our under-the-radar key here and that’s Arizona head coach Bruce Arians needs to take a page from the Denver playbook from last Sunday’s easy 29-16 win at KayCee and that means more runs, sprinkle in some reverses with Ted Ginn Jr. getting involved and try to “steal” a possession or two with some trickery on special teams. The Chiefs also best beware of Cardinals’ P Drew Butler who’s dropped 21 of his boots inside the 20-yard line this year.
The Cards could well be without both WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) and RB Andre Ellington (hip pointer among other hurts) and so it’s time for Arians and Company to improvise here.
NOTE: More College Football Conference Championship Game Previews in the next Jim Sez.