The Game. The Iron Bowl. The Apple Cup. They are iconic rivalries, so much so that, as a sports fan, you know exactly which teams take part in each of those games by heart. (We offer our apologies to Elis, Harvardians, Cardinal supporters and fellow Golden Bears reading this, as the Ohio State-Michigan contest is “The Game” for this article’s purpose.)
This weekend, all of those games will take center stage, with each one having massive College Football Playoff implications; the Ohio State-Michigan winner will have its Playoff path all laid out in front of it, while wins by Alabama and Washington will send them to its respective conference championship games and a chance to sew up a Playoff spot with a conference championship. The result of each of those games this weekend, as impactful as it will be in the makeup of the New Year’s Six bowl games, may not have as much of an impact as another that’s on the docket this weekend:
The Shootout in the Land of Enchantment.
OK, the name of the “rivalry” is fictional, but the game between Wyoming and New Mexico is very real, and the implications are as big, if not bigger, than any other game this weekend as far as how the makeup of the New Year’s Six shakes out.
First of all, remember this: the highest-ranked conference championship team from the Group of Five (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference) is guaranteed a spot in one of the prestigious New Year’s Eve/Day bowl games. At the moment, the team in the driver’s seat is currently Western Michigan of the MAC, ranked No. 21 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. The team immediately ranked above the Broncos, No. 20 Houston, is now ineligible for consideration after Navy’s win over East Carolina last Saturday gave the Midshipmen the American Athletic Conference’s West Division title and prevented the Cougars from participating in the conference’s title game. At No. 19, Boise State, if the season ended today, would also not be up for consideration for one of the New Year’s Six games.
That can change by the end of Saturday, and it depends on what occurs in Albuquerque. Wyoming and Boise State are tied for the division (Mountain) lead, but the Cowboys own the tiebreaker due to their 30-28 win over the Broncos on Oct. 29. Assuming Boise State defeats Air Force in Colorado Springs on Friday afternoon – no sure thing with the Falcons at 8-3 – Wyoming would need to defeat the Lobos to secure the Mountain Division title. If that result happens, Boise State would also be eliminated from New Year’s Six contention, as Wyoming would move on to the conference title game against San Diego State.
That would also be welcome news to Western Michigan (assuming it remains undefeated), as both Houston and Boise State would then be of no concern as competition for the the golden ticket to one of the showcase bowl games. Navy, ranked No. 25 in the latest Playoff rankings, would also benefit from it, though it probably would need a Western Michigan loss as well to have a realistic chance at passing the Broncos in the final rankings.
However, if 7-4 New Mexico, the nation’s top rushing team at 342.1 yards per game on the ground, happens to trip up the Cowboys, it could set off a chain of events that could leave the country wondering until the last second which Group of Five member will be the one in the New Year’s Six. Boise State, with a win vs. Air Force and a Wyoming loss, would win the Mountain Division and advance to the Mountain West championship game vs. San Diego State. Given that, a Broncos win in the title game would all but assure that Boise State will be the Group of Five representative, even if Western Michigan were to win the MAC Championship Game and finish up 13-0.
San Diego State, the defending Mountain West Conference champion and currently 9-2 on the season, also can’t be ignored, especially if Wyoming were to lose on Saturday. The Aztecs, if they were to play Boise State, would cause the Broncos problems with its suffocating rushing attack, led by the nation’s second-leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey. If the Aztecs win in that scenario, then what?
Which Group of Five team goes to the New Year’s Six? Western Michigan? San Diego State? Navy? Maybe Temple? This particular picture would have been even murkier if Troy, the pacesetter in the Sun Belt Conference whose only loss until last week was a six-point decision at Clemson, had not lost last Thursday to Arkansas State. All of this possible uncertainty, and we would have the result, among others, of Wyoming at New Mexico to thank.
So sit back, tune in to ESPN2 at 10:15 PM Eastern on Saturday night, enjoy some leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner and pig out while watching the biggest game on the college football schedule this week: The Shootout in the Land of Enchantment!
Hey, at least I tried to sell that to you the best way I could!
No matter if it’s the Iron Bowl or the battle for the Iron Skillet (TCU-SMU), the members making up the A Lot of Sports Talk College Football Poll panel are always up for a good rivalry, and will be tuning in to all of the family feuds that are ready to take place on the gridiron. 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 13. 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 (125, five first-place votes)
Of the teams in the top four, we almost expect the Tide to mow down Auburn and Florida and make the College Football Playoff. More likely than not, we’ll be right, but this is the exact moment when our complacency gets punished and absolute chaos erupts. Could that actually happen with Alabama, à la 2013?
2. Ohio State (118)
Has anybody thought how sweet a deal it would be for the Buckeyes if they defeated Michigan and if Penn State defeated Michigan State on Saturday? Yes, the Buckeyes would miss out on the Big Ten Championship Game, but they’d probably be in the College Football Playoff without having to play that extra game. Oh, and Buckeye fans won’t have to spend any money on tickets and travel to Indianapolis and can only worry about travel during the Playoff. Of course, they actually have to beat the Wolverines first for that scenario to play out.
3. Michigan (112)
Unlike the Buckeyes, the Wolverines need to be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game to have a shot at the Playoff. Is Saturday the day in which the tide finally starts to shift back towards the Ann Arbor side in this rivalry?
4. Clemson (111)
There’s no way the Tigers can slip up against the Gamecocks in the Palmetto State rivalry, right?
5. Washington (104)
Even with their schedule not up to snuff compared to some of the other top candidates for the Playoff, wins in the next two games would, more than likely, send the Huskies into college football’s Final Four.
6. Wisconsin (102)
The game for the Axe not only involves a team fighting for the Playoff (Wisconsin), but it also involves an 8-3 Minnesota team looking to play spoiler to the Badgers’ (Big Ten West) division title hopes – while trying to snap a 12-game losing streak to Wisconsin in the process.
7. Oklahoma (95)
Evidently, a foot of snow couldn’t stop the Sooners’ runaway Mack truck from turning the Mountaineers into roadkill last weekend. A week off, then a de facto Big 12 title game in Norman against Oklahoma State.
8. Penn State (86)
An Ohio State win over Michigan will set up a scenario where the Nittany Lions will clinch a spot in the Big 10 Championship Game by defeating Michigan State later on in the day. I still don’t believe it, and, if it actually happens, I might believe it even less.
9. Western Michigan (79)
Even with two away wins against Big Ten teams this season, the Broncos’ toughest test will be this Friday at home against 9-2 Toledo, with the winner heading to the MAC Championship Game.
10. Colorado (76*)
There’s still a chance the Buffaloes can sneak in to the top four of the College Football Playoff. To do so, they’ll have to a) hope Washington defeats Washington State, b) defeat Utah, c) defeat the Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship and d) get a little bit of help from teams above them losing. Seems like a long shot, but it’s not out of the question.
11. Louisville (76)
The national championship hopes have officially evaporated in the Derby City, but a win against Kentucky should still guarantee a place in the New Year’s Six for the Cardinals.
12. USC (72)
If Utah is able to do the Trojans a favor and defeat Colorado (which would send USC to the Pac-12 Championship Game), the Trojans might actually be a favorite to win the conference title – even if they match up against Washington.
13. Oklahoma State (69)
The Pokes have a week to prepare for its game in Norman, with the winner guaranteeing a place in a New Year’s Six game. OSU’s demolition of TCU last week was the best possible result heading into Bedlam.
14. Florida State (58)
Running back Dalvin Cook was named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, and he can pretty much seal up that hardware all to himself if he can close out the season with a stellar performance against the Gators’ tough D.
15. Florida (57)
Just imagine how good the Gators would be if their offense performed at about 70 percent of the efficiency of what the defense usually brings to the table each game. They’d be national championship worthy in that scenario.
16. Houston (45)
Could it be that Houston, ineligible to play in a New Year’s Six bowl due to being eliminated from conference championship contention, is the best team not in a Power Five conference once again? My head says “no,” but my gut says “I really, really think so.”
17. Auburn (42*)
So I’m guessing that beating Alabama might be a slightly harder task on Saturday for the Tigers than beating Alabama A&M, which they did last week.
18. Nebraska (42)
One of the bright spots of the Cornhuskers’ realignment is that they now play their season finales against the state school from across the border, Iowa. Recent match-ups have provided lots of drama, and expect nothing less on Friday.
19. Boise State (40)
All of Boise, Idaho is hoping New Mexico’s triple option attack can do the Broncos a favor and take out Wyoming on Saturday.
20. West Virginia (35)
If any team can warn you of the ill effects of turning the ball over, it’s the Mountaineers: the four giveaways they had in their loss to Oklahoma last Saturday led to four Sooners touchdowns.
21. Washington State (18)
The Cougars’ loss to Colorado last week didn’t change too much, outside of their perfect conference record going into that game. If they win the Apple Cup on Friday, the Cougs are going to the Pac-12 title game.
22. Stanford (15)
After a swoon which saw the Cardinal lose three games in a four-game stretch starting in late September, they might yet still win 10 games this season. Win No. 9 vs. Rice on Saturday is all but a sure thing.
23. Utah (13)
Another Senior Day was spoiled for the Utes, this time by Oregon last Saturday. Even worse, Utah’s chances of winning the Pac-12 South were irrevocably damaged in the process. They can do the same to Colorado’s chances with a win in Boulder on Saturday.
24. Texas A&M (11)
Though a matchup with LSU is a juicy one, it’s still odd to see the Aggies play on Thanksgiving and not see the burnt orange of Texas lined up across from them.
25. LSU (8)
Leonard Fournette won’t play in the Thanksgiving game against the Aggies, so the Tigers will try to cap off their disappointing campaign with a win without their best player.
Others receiving votes:
Tennessee (5 points), South Florida (5), Pittsburgh (4), Navy (2)
* – 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)