College football capsules: Week 14

By VSiN Staff  ( 

November 30, 2021 07:33 PM

SEC championship


Despite near-certain status for the College Football Playoff regardless of the outcome, SEC sources suggest not to assume Georgia will have anything less than full intensity in the conference championship game. Alabama might be the biggest blockade in the way of the Bulldogs’ first national title in 41 years, and Georgia can likely keep the Crimson Tide out of the Final Four by winning in Atlanta. A valid case exists for the Bulldogs, whose raucous defense has looked like a college version of the old Pittsburgh Steel Curtain. Georgia’s top-ranked defense allows less than seven points per game and wrecks offenses almost every week with a tidal wave of a push led by NT Jordan Davis. That means real trouble for Nick Saban, whose offensive line has been a problem all season. But the Tide also has a lot more offense than any attack Kirby Smart’s defense has seen, and a similar defense couldn’t slow last year’s generational Alabama offense led by QB Mac Jones, which scored 41 points in a handy win. A sharper edge belongs to the Tide and Heisman Trophy hopeful Bryce Jones, who pulled out last week’s four-OT win over Auburn on the road and has fired 40 TD passes to the usual collection of Tide big-play targets. And the one possible shortcoming on the miserly Dawgs defense is vulnerability to the deep pass. Alabama is getting dangerously thin at RB if Brian Robinson Jr. can’t bounce back from a lower-body injury suffered last week. But let’s not forget that Saban has rarely lost to a former assistant like Smart. In fact, he’d won 24 in a row until losing on a last-play field goal by Jimbo Fisher’s A&M team Oct. 9. You’d also have to go back to the 2008 SEC title game (+ 10) vs. Tim Tebow and Florida when Saban was getting this many points from the oddsmakers. We suspect we haven’t heard the last from Alabama this season.

— Bruce Marshall

Big Ten championship


A Michigan-vs.-Iowa Big Ten championship matchup in Indianapolis seemed inconceivable as recently as last week. Jim Harbaugh finally got off the schneid against Ohio State by returning to his Michigan roots as a player. The Wolverines will rarely defeat Ohio State by having more talent. So they went back to the Bo Schembechler era and won the battle by being more physical than the Buckeyes. Michigan held Ohio State to 64 yards rushing and ran the ball 41 times for 297 yards. The question all season has been whether Michigan could make big plays in the passing game when opponents stacked the box to stop the nation’s No. 9 rushing attack (224.9 yards per game). It turned out the Wolverines did not need big downfield passing plays as Ohio State’s usually stout rushing defense got whipped up front. Michigan will now make its first appearance in the conference championship game, facing Iowa. The Hawkeyes were the last team standing in a battle of attrition in the Big Ten West, clinching the division after Wisconsin lost at Minnesota. Michigan and Iowa shared the Big Ten title in 2004, but neither has won the conference since. Iowa rose as high as No. 2 in the polls before consecutive losses to Purdue and Wisconsin. Iowa was down to 21-9 in the fourth quarter Friday at Nebraska before the Cornhuskers did what they have done all season, which is to find ways to lose close games. Quarterback Spencer Petras, who had lost his starting job, came on in relief to lead the Hawkeyes to a 28-21 victory. Petras will start this week, but the Hawkeyes’ running game has shown some recent life for what has been a pedestrian offense. Iowa is one of just eight FBS teams that average fewer than 300 yards of offense per game. The running attack will need to be on point as Michigan’s pair of 2022 first-round pass rushers, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, present a tough matchup for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has gone 10-2 mainly by playing solid defense and forcing turnovers. Iowa feasts on errors, ranking third nationally with a plus-16 turnover margin and 28 takeaways. However, Michigan has turned the ball over only nine times in 12 games. The Wolverines (11-1) own the nation’s best ATS record at 10-2. Michigan opened at -8.5, but the market reopened at 10.5, and now we are seeing 11s on the board. With two defenses that rate in the top 15 nationally, we have a low total of 43.5. Perhaps Iowa is playing with house money as its hopes of playing in this game looked lost a month ago. Now Michigan has the pressure of finishing off a great season and not being satisfied by snapping an eight-game losing streak to Ohio State.

— Wes Reynolds

Big 12 championship


Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has a 3-14 record against Oklahoma, but he can put much of his rivalry misery in the past and look ahead to bigger things. The Cowboys (11-1) are shooting for their first Big 12 championship since 2011, and with it could come a spot in the College Football Playoff. A title game never should be a flat spot, but how much emotion will Oklahoma State have left after a wild 37-33 victory over the Sooners? Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders passed for 214 yards, ran for 93 and accounted for two touchdowns to overcome one of Oklahoma State’s worst defensive performances. The Cowboys, who lost 24-21 on Oct. 23 at Iowa State, have won five games by eight points or fewer. Oklahoma State beat Baylor 24-14 in early October. The Bears picked up their 10th win last weekend, beating Texas Tech 27-24, as Blake Shapen passed for 254 yards and two touchdowns in his first start. Shapen replaced Gerry Bohanon, who was out with a right hamstring injury and is questionable for this week’s game at Arlington, Texas. The Bears, who upset Oklahoma 27-14 in mid-November, should come in with confidence and will be dangerous getting 5 points in the dog role. The season started with the announcement that Oklahoma and Texas would ditch the Big 12 for a move to the SEC, so it’s ironic that both failed to reach the league title game.

— Matt Youmans

AAC championship


Cincinnati has been on the precipice before. At the end of the Brian Kelly era, the Bearcats were an eyelash from playing for the national title against Nick Saban’s Alabama squad, getting nudged out by Texas. But not even Power 5 politicking would figure to deny the unbeaten Bearcats a spot in the College Football Playoff should they survive this AAC finale against Houston. These are not the same Cougars as a year ago, when COVID-19 turned their season inside-out and Dana Holgorsen could do no better than a 3-5 SU mark, including a 38-10 loss to Cincinnati. But it’s best to dismiss last season for the Cougars, who haven’t lost since the opener against Texas Tech. One of the major differences from a year ago is junior QB Clayton Tune, unsteady in 2020 but poised and efficient this season, as his 26-8 TD/INT ratio would attest. That careful characteristic has helped Houston to a + 12 turnover margin, fourth best in the country. Houston also ranks sixth nationally in total defense, allowing a mere 287 ypg. Cincy has dealt with all challenges this season and was a comfortable victor in its signature win Oct. 2 at Notre Dame. Luke Fickell has also gotten timely help from his special teams, such as the blocked field-goal return for a TD last week at East Carolina when the Pirates looked to be making a move early in the fourth quarter. Striking almost a 50-50 balance between run and pass as directed by dual-threat QB Desmond Ridder, and with the nation’s eighth-ranked defense, the Bearcats can also like their chances in the Final Four — if they can make it that far. Last year’s AAC title game against Tulsa turned out much closer than Fickell would have desired, and a recent stretch of four straight spread losses suggests this one might not be easy for the Bearcats either.

— Bruce Marshall

Pac-12 championship


Utah spoiled Oregon’s shot at the College Football Playoff when Tavion Thomas rushed for 94 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-7 blowout Nov. 20 in Salt Lake City. With the rematch set Friday night in Las Vegas, the Ducks will be hungry for revenge. Oregon (10-2) bounced back from its embarrassing loss to Utah by beating Oregon State 38-29 as quarterback Anthony Brown produced one of his top performances of the season. Brown completed 23 of 28 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran for 83 yards and a score to complement Travis Dye, who carried 20 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns. The Utes (9-3) have won five in a row and boast an 8-1 record since Cameron Rising took over at quarterback. Rising had three touchdown passes and Thomas rushed for 142 yards last weekend as Utah, which had already clinched the Pac-12 South, coasted to a 28-13 win over Colorado. The Utes will be focused on unfinished business after losing in their last two trips to the Pac-12 title game. The lopsided result in the teams’ first meeting was somewhat of a fluke because almost everything went right for the Utes as the deficit snowballed on the Ducks. It’s often tempting to bet on the side seeking revenge when the teams are relative equals, as is the case here. It’s also rare for a 10-win team to be an underdog twice in three weeks, but that’s true with Oregon as Utah is a 3-point favorite. The Utes have the sharper coach, Kyle Whittingham, who is eyeing the prize and has stated his goal is to coach in the Rose Bowl.

— Matt Youmans

ACC championship


Football scores the last few months involving Pitt and Wake Forest have often been mistaken for basketball results. Indeed, these are the third- and fourth-ranked scoring offenses in the nation, each tallying about 43 ppg, and nobody in the ACC could slow either team. Getting a bit more attention for his exploits this season has been Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, who moved into the   Heisman Trophy discussion en route to 4,066 yards passing 40 TD throws. The Demon Deacons’ Sam Hartman, however, has posted similar numbers with 3,711 yards passing and 34 TD tosses while adding 10 rushing touchdowns. So in a battle between Top 10 offenses, perhaps the edge will come on defense, which would seem to belong to Pitt and its 23-ppg unit. But we also suspect the Panthers might have caught a bit of a break in their schedule sequence, facing Tennessee and Clemson before their offenses found their rhythm and surviving a couple of tense moments against North Carolina and Virginia. Dynamic Miami outscored the Panthers Oct. 30 at Heinz Field, and Western Michigan’s RPO caused all sorts of problems for Pat Narduzzi’s defense in the Broncos’ major upset Sept. 18. Maybe the best call here is simply the Over. Wake has gone that way in six of its last eight, while Pitt has gone Under in 15 of its last 20. Both sides will throw the expected haymakers, but the schedule doesn’t set up as optimally for Pitt this time.

— Bruce Marshall

Mountain West championship


Few teams in the nation are more difficult to solve than San Diego State, which has won 11 games despite offensive performances that were frequently pitiful. So in a strange way, it makes sense that Jordon Brookshire, a quarterback who was benched in mid-October, came out of nowhere last weekend to save the Aztecs’ conference title hopes. Brookshire was called in to replace Lucas Johnson late in the first half, and the unlikely hero rallied San Diego State from a 13-point deficit to a 27-16 victory over Boise State. Brookshire passed for 192 yards to launch the Aztecs to the Mountain West title game at their temporary home in Los Angeles. The opponent in Carson, Calif., will be Utah State, which was blown out 44-17 by a hapless Wyoming team two weeks ago. This is an odd matchup, to say the least. The Aggies are led by veteran quarterback Logan Bonner, who has thrown 32 touchdown passes, including five against New Mexico a week ago. The Aztecs’ Brookshire and Johnson have combined for only 12 touchdown passes in 12 games. San Diego State finds ways to win mostly because it ranks ninth in the nation in scoring defense at 17.3 points per game. It takes a good passer to beat the Aztecs, and Bonner might be the man for the job. San Diego State is laying 5.5 to 6 points, and it’s worth noting Utah State is 6-0 straight up on the road this season.

— Matt Youmans

Sun Belt championship


Previous matchups are not always foolproof indicators of how rematches will proceed. But App State is hoping it learned something from the 41-13 thumping it absorbed Oct. 12 at Cajun Field.  The rout couldn’t have been much more thorough. The Ragin’ Cajuns jumped to a 20-3 lead, outgaining the Mountaineers by a whopping 455-211. App State QB Chase Brice regressed to some of his bad habits from last season at Duke, tossing two picks. So we’re a bit baffled that App is laying a short price on the road. Perhaps expectations are that ULL might be distracted, as coach Billy Napier took the Florida job over the weekend but will stay and coach in this Sun Belt title game. Or maybe Louisiana’s closer-than-expected call against aroused ULM last weekend has something to do with the oddsmakers’ downgrade. But Louisiana hasn’t lost since the opener at Texas, and fourth-year QB Levi Lewis continues to provide mostly mistake-free leadership, as his mere four interceptions would attest. Avoiding mistakes has been a trademark of Napier’s team, which ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin at + 11. True, App State didn’t lose after the Oct. 12 meeting either. With a heavy dose of seniors and super seniors, plus definitely Napier’s last game at Cajun Field, the emotional edge would seem to be with Louisiana, despite App’s revenge motive.

— Bruce Marshall

Conference USA championship


Some technical numbers might be worth further examination in this Conference USA title game. The high-scoring Hilltoppers closed with a rush, winning their last seven outright while covering six, and they went 8-4 to the Over. The host Roadrunners have dropped their last three vs. the spread and are just 1-3 vs. the line in their last four at the Alamodome. Texas-San Antonio’s undefeated regular season also went up in smoke Saturday when North Texas’ suddenly fearsome ground game stomped on Jeff Traylor’s defense, which had entered the weekend ranked 10th against the run and had surrendered just six rushing TDs all season — the same number the Mean Green racked up Saturday. So momentum would seem to be on the side of Western Kentucky and its Houston Baptist connection. Transfer QB Bailey Zappe, battling all season with Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong for the lead in national total offense, runs a progressive Air Raid offense coordinated by Zach Kittley, who moved to the Hilltoppers from the FCS Huskies along with several receiving targets. They include wideout Jerreth Sterns, whose staggering 127 receptions lead the nation by a Secretariat-in-the-1973-Belmont margin (Purdue’s David Bell is next, 34 receptions behind). This is also a rematch of a wild 52-46 Roadrunners win Oct. 9 at WKU, which also happens to be the Hilltoppers’ last loss. Still, Western Kentucky had 670 yards of offense that day and Zappe fired five TD passes, only to be outgunned by Roadrunners counterpart Frank Harris, who played the game of his life with a career-best six TD passes. Harris, however, was not sharp last week and was pulled at halftime. Though UTSA can also lean on punishing Sincere McCormick and his 1,275 yards rushing, it would seem to need another big game from Harris to prevail in an expected shootout against Zappe. Making the Hilltoppers slight early favorites on the road, oddsmakers seem a bit more impressed by WKU’s recent pedigree. With Western Kentucky’s offense providing a season-long highlight show, shouldn’t coach Tyson Helton be getting some mention for higher-profile job openings?

— Bruce Marshall

MAC championship


Kent State was predicted last summer to win the Mid-American Conference East Division. That is exactly what the Golden Flashes did, but it was not easy. Kent State had to survive a two-point attempt by Miami (Ohio) with the division crown on the line and held on for a 48-47 overtime victory. The Golden Flashes have been in their fair share of track meets as they run one of the quickest tempos in the FBS, averaging 78.3 plays per game. Sean Lewis, FBS’ youngest coach at 35, has a team that rates eighth nationally in total offense (490.5 ypg) and third in rushing offense (247.2 ypg). One of Kent State’s shootouts came Nov. 3 in a 52-47 victory over its MAC championship opponent, Northern Illinois. The Huskies were predicted to finish last in the MAC West but wrapped up the division title before the final regular-season game. In its finale, Northern Illinois lost 42-21 at home to Western Michigan, but the Huskies were playing without injured quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who transferred from Michigan State. Lombardi is listed as questionable but more than likely should play, and the Huskies will need him to help match Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum, who is 24th nationally in total offense. Both teams are probably lucky to be playing for the MAC title. Kent State ranks 124th of 130 teams in total defense at 474.6 ypg and allows 34.6 ppg. But the Golden Flashes are second in the nation with a + 15 turnover margin on 24 takeaways. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois has had its fair share of good fortune. Despite a defense that allows 452.4 yards and 33.5 points per game, the Huskies went 8-4 and exceeded all expectations. NIU’s success comes down to breaks on fourth down. The Huskies rate No. 1 in the nation for fourth-down conversions at 19-for-23 (82.6 percent). They also rank top 25 nationally in fourth-down defense, allowing opponents to convert only 40 percent. Northern Illinois is also 7-2 in one-score games, whereas Kent State is 4-0. Kent State, 5-1 ATS as a favorite, opened -2. The market is mostly 2.5 to 3, and the total opened 72 and has gone up to 74 in what is expected to be a high-scoring game indoors at Ford Field in Detroit.

— Wes Reynolds


Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma on Sunday for the USC coaching job, and freshman Jaxson Dart has made a strong case to be the quarterback to lead the Trojans into the future. Dart, who started the last two games as the replacement for injured veteran Kedon Slovis, nearly led USC to an upset of Brigham Young on Saturday night. He passed for 248 yards and one touchdown and ran for another score in a 35-31 loss that went to the wire. Dart plays with a youthful enthusiasm that seems to energize the Trojans, who are 4-7 heading into the season finale. In his first start against UCLA, Dart passed for 325 yards. USC is 1-5 in its last six games, yet the team showed fight even with little to play for against the Cougars. The Trojans came up short against BYU, but they rushed for 210 yards behind an offensive line that controlled most of the second half. Vavae Malepeai and Darwin Barlow combined for 180 rushing yards on 39 carries. California (4-7) was dominated on both sides of the ball in a 42-14 loss at UCLA. The Golden Bears were outgained 446-217, and quarterback Chase Garbers threw two interceptions. Cal coach Justin Wilcox, who has a 25-28 record in his fifth year, could be coaching his final game in Berkeley. Which team will be more motivated for this rather meaningless game, which was postponed from mid-November? USC, a 2.5-point dog, is more talented, and Dart is already a better quarterback than Garbers.

— Matt Youmans


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