B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 14
Regardless of what happens Saturday, Georgia will be in the College Football Playoff. But the Bulldogs are aiming to enter the CFP as SEC champions.
They're set to meet Alabama on a busy Saturday that will determine 10 conference winners and the three programs that will join Georgia in the CFP.
Alabama would secure a spot with an upset of Georgia, while Michigan has a win-and-in scenario against Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. Cincinnati and Oklahoma State hope their outlook is the same in the AAC and Big 12, respectively.
But will any of those top-ranked programs suffer a loss? B/R's experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—have assembled to offer their predictions on those matchups, along with a few other storylines about the final week before postseason matchups are revealed.
Georgia vs. Alabama: Who You Got in SEC TItle?
I do not make this decision lightly. Picking against Alabama is not particularly fun or normal, although it's something I am ready to do right now.
For the first time in 92 games, Nick Saban is an underdog. That is astonishing. It's also very much the way it should be.
In the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide looked off. Mortal. Human. We aren't accustomed to seeing that with Alabama, although considering the talent this team lost during the offseason, perhaps it's finally starting to catch up.
Granted, I believe we'll see a much better game from the Tide. I just believe Georgia is better in almost every respect, and that includes offense. For as much as we might think the Bulldogs just sit on the football, they are now the nation's No. 6 scoring offense.
Sure, the defense is the story. It has allowed 83 points ALL SEASON. It should be the story.
But the team as a whole is complete, and Georgia has put itself in this position for a reason. I think the Bulldogs have a chance to win this game by double digits.
Let's talk about that story: Georgia's defense.
No opponent has scored more than 20 points against the Dawgs, who have ceded an FBS-low 3.7 yards per snap. They've allowed only 24 plays of 20-plus yards. This unit makes offenses earn every yard.
Georgia has also surrendered only six touchdowns in 22 red-zone trips for the opposition. That 27.3 percent rate is downright obscene. The Crimson Tide can't afford to waste any scoring opportunity against the Bulldogs.
As you can imagine, I'm taking Georgia. And only a late touchdown brings Alabama back within a one-possession margin.
Will Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Seal the Deal Against Iowa?
Absolutely. Not only are the Michigan Wolverines playing excellent football, but Iowa just isn't very good offensively. That isn't good news for a team that needs to hang points on the Wolverines, who can be downright dominant on defense.
If Aidan Hutchinson isn’t the Heisman Trophy winner, he probably needs to finish runner-up to another defender (Alabama's Will Anderson). He leads a pass-rushing attack that is clicking on all cylinders. The Hawkeyes are going to try to run the ball, but that isn't easy to do against the Wolverines, either.
Last weekend took the lid off the Maize and Blue. All they needed was to get over the scarlet hump, and that finally happened in a big way. Are they on an emotional high still? Sure, who wouldn't be after breaking that streak and beating their hated rivals? But this team is all business and has enough veteran leadership to settle down and get back into the game plan.
If the same team that whipped the Buckeyes last weekend shows up for the rest of the year, it can win it all. This is a hard-nosed team that has to be more confident now than at any time in the Jim Harbaugh era.
Kirk Ferentz is going to have his team ready to play, but Michigan is just too strong. The Wolverines are going to win 28-17 and head to the College Football Playoff.
Yes, Michigan wins. The primary reason is what Brad mentioned first, too. I don't trust Iowa's offense.
All season long, that's been the issue. The defense propelled the Hawkeyes to their 6-0 start, creating a mind-bending plus-15 turnover margin along the way. That extraordinary effort hid an offense averaging only 4.6 yards per snap.
Iowa is good enough defensively to force Michigan into an outlier performance. However, only five FBS offenses have fewer giveaways this season than the Wolverines' nine.
Harbaugh and Michigan are CFP-bound.
Does Oklahoma State Win the Big 12, Make the CFP?
Oklahoma State will be in the College Football Playoff if it wins this game. The only scenario in which things could get debatable for the Pokes is if Alabama, Cincinnati and Michigan also win their respective conference championships. But I think we all know deep down that the undefeated Bearcats would get the shaft if that's how things play out Saturday.
And with drastically less confidence, I do like the Cowboys to get the win.
It might not feel like it in the aftermath of a game that was ridiculous even by Bedlam standards, but Oklahoma State has one of the best defenses in the nation. And Baylor's offense isn't exactly firing on all cylinders as of late. It's been held to 28 points or fewer in four straight games with not-great (by their standards) rushing performances to close the season against Kansas State and Texas Tech.
Oklahoma State won the regular-season clash by two scores despite a minus-three turnover margin. I believe Spencer Sanders avoids the terrible interceptions that helped keep the first game close and the Cowboys win in relatively convincing fashion.
Two years ago, injuries forced Baylor to play third-string quarterback Jacob Zeno in the Big 12 championship game. Although the Bears nearly won anyway, that wasn't ideal for their most important moment of the season.
While the outlook isn't quite as dire heading into this showdown with Oklahoma State, it isn't much better, either. Baylor starter Gerry Bohanon is dealing with a hamstring injury, and he's uncertain to play. If he's out, the Bears will turn to Blake Shapen for his second straight start.
The good news? Shapen threw for 254 yards and two scores against Texas Tech last weekend. The bad news? Oklahoma State has allowed the fourth-fewest yards per snap and the lowest third-down conversion rate nationwide. Bit tougher matchup!
I agree with you, Kerry. If Alabama beats UGA, Michigan wins and Oklahoma State does as well, I think the selection committee isn't going to pick Cincinnati over the Pokes.
Will Cincinnati Officially Be Playoff-Bound?
Yes, and it's going to be glorious. The only thing that may throw a wrench in this scenario is Michigan getting upset by Iowa in the Big Ten championship to open the door for someone like Oklahoma State or Notre Dame. Pair that with Alabama beating Georgia, and Cincy has a right to be nervous.
But still, I think the Bearcats' No. 4 ranking this week after a just fine 30-13 win over ECU means their No. 4 spot might be safer than previously thought. I do think Cincinnati will beat Houston on Saturday. This one is at home for the Bearcats, where they remarkably haven't lost at since 2017. It's pretty simple: win Saturday over an impressive 11-1 Houston team and you're in.
Even if Alabama and Georgia make it into the Top Four, I don't see the committee knocking out an undefeated conference champion Cincinnati. Should the committee give a bid to Notre Dame, it would also have to give one to Cincy, which defeated ND head-to-head earlier this season.
If the Bearcats win Saturday, which I think will happen, they should be in.
I agree that Cincinnati wins. I agree that the Bearcats advance to the College Football Playoff. And if you're on the bandwagon, start cheering for an Alabama loss.
That combination is most important.
I'm not going to put anything past the committee. At this point, I know better than to assume. I find it highly unlikely, though, that a more-flawed-than-usual Alabama can stick at No. 3 ahead of an undefeated Cincinnati, no matter how competitive the Tide are in the SEC championship game.
Michigan will likely stay at No. 2 with a victory. Oklahoma State may vault past Cincinnati for No. 3. But if Alabama falls, there's nothing in Cincinnati's way of the CFP.
Pitt vs. Wake Forest: Who Wins the Forgotten ACC?
This game is going to be awesome. No, it won't decide a playoff game. No, it won't be a ratings bonanza. But I do love everything about this matchup, starting with the quarterbacks.
Kenny Pickett vs. Sam Hartman is about as good of a QB vs. QB matchup as we will get this year, which is not something I expected to say before the season began.
And I think Wake Forest has a real chance to spring what would be a mild upset. While Pitt is the more complete team—especially defensively—Wake is resilient. The offense is complicated, and I expect the Panthers to struggle with the diabolical reads that Hartman has delivered all season long.
Oh, and there will be points. Maybe more than 80 of them. This will not be a blowout. The scoreboard will be busy, and both teams should do plenty of damage. I just think Wake Forest does more.
The Demon Deacons win the ACC. What a beautiful sport this is.
I fully anticipate this fantastic QB clash to put 80-plus points on the board. Pickett has accounted for at least three touchdowns in 10 games this season, and Hartman has accomplished that in nine. And they've both managed two in all 12 contests.
But I believe that Pitt's defense will provide the ever-so-slight difference in this matchup. Duke and Boston College are the only teams since Oct. 2 not to score at least 34 points on Wake Forest. That is a dangerous way to live, folks.
Either way, it's a remarkable story. Pitt, though, earns its first conference title since joining the ACC in 2013.
Will Oregon Earn Its 3rd Straight Pac-12 Crown?
When Oregon and Utah met two weeks ago, the Ducks inexplicably made no effort to establish the run. Just 14 days after rushing 28 times for 211 yards in the win over Washington, Travis Dye got four carries in the first half, two of which were "safe" play calls on 3rd-and-10-plus.
Seriously, what the hell was that? Utah is undefeated when allowing fewer than 150 rushing yards and winless when allowing more than that, but Mario Cristobal decides to let a spot in the playoff ride on the arm of Anthony Brown?
The Ducks presumably won't make that mistake again, but Utah still has the more balanced offense and the better defense.
As was the case during the regular season, I like the Utes unless turnovers are a major factor. But considering they have only two giveaways in the past six games combined, they should get the W and reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in program history.
Without question, Oregon needs to run the ball early. However, it's less about the yardage to me.
I completely buy into the notion that the running game shows which team will be more physical. Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley recently spoke about that. And when Oregon lost two weeks ago, the Ducks did not match Utah's power.
At the same time, I believe Utah wins in that department again. Since a poor showing in a loss at Oregon State in October, the Utes have limited five opponents to 3.0 yards per carry.
If the Ducks are unable to run efficiently, it's difficult to envision the nation's 82nd-ranked passing attack picking up the slack.
What's the Biggest Storyline to Emerge from Championship Week?
A lot of interesting storylines should come out of this monster weekend. But the biggest will be finding out how good this Alabama team really is.
We know the Tide are mortal thanks to the loss earlier in the season to Texas A&M. But Bama has also struggled against teams it shouldn't have, including needing quadruple overtime to defeat a struggling Auburn team last week.
Georgia is the clear favorite heading into the SEC title game thanks to its defense, which is ranked inside the top three nationwide in virtually every statistic. But Georgia hasn't beaten Alabama since 2007, in Nick Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa. These two teams played each other close in the 2012 and 2018 SEC championship games, too.
If Georgia destroys Alabama, questions will once again surface about how long Saban's reign can last. If Bama loses a close game, those questions may come as whispers. If Bama wins its seventh straight game against Georgia, it will once again make it to the playoff, perhaps setting up a rematch with the Dawgs.
Jim Harbaugh quieting the doubters—which includes me.
For several years, I've highlighted the balance needed for this discussion. Before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he had posted three 10-3 seasons, one 9-4 season and one 8-5 season. Move on from that, and be careful what you wish for.
When the expectation is a national championship, though, peaking at 10-3 is a borderline failure.
I didn't anticipate Michigan eclipsing Ohio State in 2021. After all, Harbaugh's six-year tenure is stacked with road letdowns, and the Wolverines traveled to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State this year.
There's a reason Harbaugh's contract extension last summer made it easy to fire him following the 2021 season. It would've cost only $4 million, which is basically pennies to Michigan.
Yet if the Wolverines win Saturday—and I believe they will—much of that disappointment vanishes.
Over/Under 27.5 Mentions of Lincoln Riley on USC/Cal Broadcast?
Over. Eassssy. And we aren't talking about eggs, either.
This game means absolutely nothing and should be a snore-fest. Why wouldn't the announcers discuss the same thing we've been talking about all week? You can bet they'll mention the Oklahoma fallout, all the defections, the recruits who've followed him and the way Riley left.
The only question: Does it count as 28 mentions of Riley if the announcers never stop talking about him? Or does that count as one?
You can bet Riley is going to be in attendance watching his new team, and he's going to be oohing and ahhing about his shiny new toy in Jaxson Dart and Co. This Trojans team has weapons, and Riley may just be the right person to make it all tick.
At times, if you watch the game, you may even forget the Bears are on the field. This is going to be all Riley, all the time.
Probably safely over, and for good reason. Riley is likely to make USC the Pac-12's top program again.
But mostly, I hope the conversation includes how Riley left. Not because of a ridiculous reason about how he owed Oklahoma this or that. Not because he boarded an airplane in the early morning. Not because Riley exited a thriving program. But because what he said during the week is just plain comical.
Riley said he learned of USC's interest late Saturday night. And then he accepted the job Sunday—you know, hours after losing to Oklahoma State. Sure. OK, guy.
"This is going to be the mecca of college football," Riley proudly announced in his USC presser. "Told us that last week," Oklahoma defender Isaiah Thomas replied.
Just amazing. While the discussions rightfully should be largely positive, I hope that's all mentioned, too.
In Order, Who Are Your Playoff Teams?
Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Cincinnati
Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Cincinnati
Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Cincinnati
Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State
Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State