At A Lot of Sports Talk, we realize that December has arrived and, like many other people who happen to be in the holiday spirit, we are well into making our Christmas wish list. But, as a college football fan, some of the things that we hope will come true on the calendar’s final month will happen well before Kris Kringle arrives on Christmas Day.
Specifically, we’re talking about Championship Saturday, as well as the other conference title games that are being contested this weekend. What we want is excitement. What we want are thrilling finishes.
If total chaos erupts, even better!
As the conference championship games get underway on Friday, we’re putting pen-to-wish-list-paper the way we want each of those conference title games to play out, evoking a great game of its title game past to try and make our wishes come true happen. It may not be the Ghost of Christmas Past coming to the fore, but it’s a start.
Here’s our wish list, with each conference championship game listed in the order of the kickoff time this weekend.
We wish the Mid-American Conference Championship Game was like…1999: So the downside to this game was that it wasn’t at a neutral site, as Marshall, the dominant force in the non power conference world, hosted the game in Huntington, but the parallels between the second-ever MAC title game and this year’s event are striking: both games featured Western Michigan and both included a team going into the game with an undefeated record. (The 2016 Broncos are 12-0.) Marshall, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Chad Pennington, came into the game at 12-0 as well, but shockingly were behind the Broncos 20-0 at halftime and faced a 23-0 deficit at home early in the third quarter. But the Herd were not to be denied, as Pennington led Marshall to 34 second-half points, including leading the team down the field on the game-winning 75-yard drive in 3:04 and throwing the game-winning one-yard TD pass with four seconds left. It was a drive that was the stuff of legend and helped to launch Pennington’s very successful professional career. Marshall ended its season with a win over BYU in the Motor City Bowl (in Detroit, the current home of the MAC Championship Game) and finished in the Top 10 of the Associated Press’ final poll. Here’s the truncated version of the winning drive, a drive which included the Thundering Herd overcoming a sack on the first play of that drive and converting on a fourth down. Oh, and it includes cheesy music halfway through the video, so you’re just going to have to deal with that, too.
We wish the 2016 Pac-12 Conference Championship Game was like…2012: Not only is the Pac-12 title game still in its nascent stage, almost all of the contests haven’t been too memorable. But, in 2012, the Stanford Cardinal, under then second-year head coach David Shaw, had to come back from a 24-17 fourth-quarter deficit to come away with a 27-24 victory to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal, who had defeated No. 1 Oregon in Eugene earlier that month to set themselves up to reach the conference’s second-ever title game, would go on to defeat Wisconsin in “The Granddaddy of Them All” to finish 12-2 in the first season post Andrew Luck.
We wish the 2016 American Athletic Conference Championship Game was like…2015, but better: Being that the noon kickoff on Saturday between Temple and Navy will only be the second-ever AAC title game, we only have one game to choose from. Last year, No. 17 Houston comfortably handled the Owls 24-13, though that game officially launched the Cougars into the New Year’s Six, where they then defeated Florida State in the Peach Bowl. If Western Michigan, the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the College Football Playoff this week, were to stumble on Friday, Navy – ranked two spots behind the Broncos at No. 19 – will be in a position to do what the Cougars did last year: win the game and proceed to play in a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game.
We wish the 2016 Southeastern Conference Championship Game was like…2012: It would have been easy to choose the inaugural conference title game in 1992, with its drama (Antonio Langham anyone?) and its meaning to college football, as it ushered in the era of the conference title game. That said, the 2012 constest might have very well been the best conference title game ever played, no matter which conference. No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia battled back-and-forth, with the winner to play No. 1 Notre Dame in the national title game. With the Tide down by three late in the fourth, AJ McCarron hit Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown to give Alabama the lead. Georgia’s last drive got inside of Alabama’s 10, but Aaron Murray’s pass towards the end zone with 10 seconds left was tipped, where an unsuspecting Chris Conley, who was not the intended receiver, caught the ball at the five-yard line before slipping to the Georgia Dome turf. With no timeouts, the clock ran out with the Bulldogs five yards away from the title and Alabama claiming another SEC title. The Tide would eventually win the national title in a rout of the Irish in Miami. Here’s a quick video recap of the game, and even the condensed highlights will give you goosebumps.
We wish the 2016 Mountain West Conference Championship Game was like…last month’s regular-season game between the same two opponents: In another conference in which its championship history is only in its embryonic stage, last year’s game, where San Diego State defeated Air Force 27-24, is definitely the pick of the three previous installments. (If we could choose from past Western Athletic Conference Championship games, the league where a number of current Mountain West members used to reside in, we’d take the 1996 version, where No. 6 BYU defeated No. 20 Wyoming 28-25 in overtime in Las Vegas on its way to a 14-1 season and a No. 5 Associated Press ranking in its final poll that year.) But with San Diego State and Wyoming meeting for the second time in three weeks, we’ll definitely take what happened in Laramie on Nov. 19, where the Cowboys thought they had the game won after the game’s final play – so much so that the fans started to rush the field. The final play, a Hail Mary pass from the Aztecs, was ruled incomplete when receiver Quest Truxton had the ball knocked out of his hands while on the ground in the end zone. After a lengthy review, the call was overturned and ruled a touchdown, allowing the Aztecs to tie the game with the extra point. Instead, San Diego State head coach Rocky Long elected to go for the two-point conversion and the win, but Christian Chapman’s pass was knocked away in the end zone, giving the Cowboys the win over the then No. 24 Aztecs.
We wish the 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game was like…2014: We must admit that the 2006 game finished in a close second in our unofficial voting, with Wake Forest defeating Georgia Tech in a 9-6 field goal fest in foggy and rainy Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. (That’s sarcasm, people!) Two years ago, Florida State, looking to repeat as national champions, were expected to run over Georgia Tech on its way to taking part in the initial College Football Playoff. It didn’t play out that way for most of the first half, however. The Yellow Jackets’ triple option caused fits all game for the Seminoles, as Georgia Tech took the lead on three separate occasions in the first half – all with touchdowns. Florida State responded every time, going into the half leading 28-21. Though the Seminoles were held out of the end zone in the second half and limited to three Roberto Aguayo field goals, it was enough to squeeze out a 37-35 win over the Ramblin’ Wreck.
We wish the 2016 Big Ten Conference Championship Game was like…2015: We definitely don’t wish the Penn State-Wisconsin affair tomorrow night resembles the Badgers’ last appearance in Indianapolis, where they were eviscerated 59-0 by Ohio State in 2014. Tomorrow’s game could lead to an appearance in the College Football Playoff for the winner, like the situation was last season, when No. 4 Iowa was so close to sewing up an unlikely undefeated season going into the Playoff. Instead, No. 5 Michigan State wrested the game away from the Hawkeyes, with LJ Scott scoring on a run from two yards out with 27 seconds left in the game to give the Spartans a 16-13 victory. Scott’s run capped off one of the more memorable drives in college football history; it lasted 22 plays, covered 82 yards and Michigan State ran off more than nine minutes (9:04) off the clock.
Those are simple wishes to be honest, right? Come on college football gods, make them happen!
I’m sure the members making up the A Lot of Sports Talk College Football Poll panel have their wishes usually come true in the month of December. As always, the panel consists of journalists, former college football players and coaches as well as knowledgeable fans who continually have a finger on the pulse of college football. For this week’s poll, our qualified quintet remains the same: Evie Van Pelt (managing editor at The Rebel Walk Magazine), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Nick Mancuso (patent attorney who attended USC as an undergrad and Oregon for law school) and, yours truly, Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief).
Here is ALOST‘s 2016 College Football Top 25 for Week 14. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
1. Alabama (124, four first-place votes)
There’s a great profile on Bleacher Report on Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts, who very well might be in New York City for the Heisman ceremony if he closes out his amazing freshman season in style against the Gators. (Adesina Koiki)
2. Ohio State (119, one first-place vote)
That spot on J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down run in double overtime… (Sandy Weintraub)
3. Clemson (114)
I’m convinced that the team currently in a top-four Playoff position that plays in its conference’s title game with the best chance of getting upset are the Tigers, especially against a Virginia Tech team that has won on the road against North Carolina and Pittsburgh, as well as equipped itself on the road against Tennessee in a close loss. (Adesina)
4. Washington (109)
At this point, I believe Jake Browning deserves consideration for the Heisman that he just isn’t getting. It has been an odd year in the Pac-12, but not necessarily a bad one. This UW team does have good wins and also has been dominant. If they beat Colorado, they deserve a shot at the Playoff. (Sandy)
5. Michigan (106)
…That spot. (Sandy)
Something tells me that, by the end of Saturday night, the Wolverines’ chances of making the Playoff increase more than it will decrease. Don’t know why, but just a hunch. (Adesina)
6. Wisconsin (100)
So I just had a passionate discussion with my photographer, Robert, who is adamant that Penn State should be in the College Football Playoff over Ohio State if it beats Wisconsin on Saturday – especially since the Nittany Lions defeated the Buckeyes head-to-head. But for those who share in having that thought with Robert, I have one question to ask you: What if the Badgers win? That very well could end up happening. (Adesina)
7. Oklahoma (94)
With the Sooners stuck at No. 9 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking, the chances of them making the Playoff seem to be slim to none. And I just saw Slim in the airport about to fly out of Norman. (Adesina)
8. Penn State (87)
It seems almost everyone outside of Madison wants Penn State to win on Saturday night to see what the Playoff Committee will do with the Nittany Lions. Quite frankly, I might be rooting for that as well for that very reason. (Adesina)
9. Western Michigan (79)
A Lot of Sports Talk is in Detroit as we’re typing this, looking to see if the Broncos can complete the undefeated season that, more than likely, will see them in the Cotton Bowl. (Adesina)
10. Colorado (78)
Win or lose on Friday, there aren’t too many better candidates for national coach of the year than Mike MacIntyre of the Buffs. (Adesina)
11. USC (77)
I sincerely believe this is the second best team in the country. The talent is there and the momentum is there. The early-season losses sunk them. (Sandy)
12. Oklahoma State (75)
The Cowboys’ chances at the Playoff are all but nonexistent, but a win in Norman would give OSU wins against Pittsburgh and at Oklahoma, as well as a conference championship. (Adesina)
13. Florida State (72)
If most projections end up being correct, then a Seminoles game against Michigan in the Orange Bowl would be a very interesting matchup. (Adesina)
14. West Virginia (57)
A win at home against a reeling Baylor would give the Mountaineers a 10-2 season, with their only losses against the Oklahoma schools. Not a bad season at all. (Adesina)
15. Louisville (51*)
All the Cardinals had to do was win against Kentucky and they’d be a shoo-in for the New Year’s Six. Umm…oops! (Adesina)
16. Florida (51)
Can the Gators’ offense make any dents in the Alabama defense to make the SEC title game anything but a Tide coronation? (Adesina)
17. Stanford (48)
Another year, another shot at a 10-win season for the Cardinal. Sorry, Trojans fans, but Stanford is clearly the best football program in California at the moment. (Adesina)
18. Auburn (35)
For those who believe that the SEC is experiencing a down season, Auburn’s likely appearance in the Sugar Bowl at 8-4 will be something many point to as evidence of the league’s relative mediocrity in 2016. (Adesina)
19. LSU (30)
Congratulations, Ed Orgeron. You have the full-time job as head coach of the Bayou Bengals. Now go ahead and unseat Alabama in the SEC West and win national championships. Easy! (Adesina)
20. Navy (29)
Because of the Midshipmen being only two spots behind Western Michigan in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the decision on the Group of Five team that heads to the New Year’s Six most likely will be delayed until after Navy’s Dec. 10 game vs. Army. That, most likely, will create a domino effect that appears to be a logistical nightmare in waiting, as this article explains. (Adesina)
21. Virginia Tech (19)
If the Hokies’ passing attack clicks against Clemson’s secondary, then an upset is definitely possible. It may take scoring 50-plus points to win against the Tigers, though. (Adesina)
22. South Florida (15*)
Has anyone outside of the area surrounding Interstate 4 noticed the great season the Bulls have put together? They beat Navy, a team that might end up playing in the New Year’s Six, and USF’s only two losses came against Florida State (10-2) and Temple (9-3). If Willie Taggart stays in Tampa in 2017 to coach the Bulls, they would be the Group of Five team to watch next season. (Adesina)
23. Pittsburgh (15)
News flash! Both the Orange and Panthers have just scored touchdowns again! Pitt ended its season with a 76-61 win over Syracuse, something I couldn’t recreate in a video game even if I put the difficulty setting on super easy. (Adesina)
24. Iowa (11)
It took almost all season for the Hawkeyes to make up for their loss to FCS power North Dakota State in September, but November wins against Michigan and Nebraska definitely saved Kirk Ferentz’s blushes in 2016. (Adesina)
25. Utah (9)
The 2016 season is a case of “What could have been?” for the Utes: all four of Utah’s losses this season came by a margin of seven points or fewer, with three of the losses by five points or fewer. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
Nebraska (8 points), Houston (8), Tennessee (3), Air Force (1), Washington State (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)