Friday, December 19, 2014

Breaking Down Russell Athletic Bowl

By Jesse Lawrence

As we inch closer to the December, 29th Russell Athletic Bowl between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Clemson Tigers, the ticket prices are bound to change. For this game, we are starting to see a drastic decrease in the prices of tickets to the game in the home of Disney World. 

According to Totally Tickets, the average price of a ticket to the game in Orlando Florida costs $91.23, but can cost as little as $28. This price represents a 14% decrease in price over the past 7 days for Oklahoma football tickets. This decrease in price could be due to the loss of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. 

Watson was the explosive spark that drove the Clemson offense for much of the season. When Watson was on the field, he threw 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions for the tigers. He was the catalyst to the nations 60th best scoring offense. While that rank doesn’t seem very good, they may have been more productive if Watson had played the whole season. Cole Stoudt started the year as the starting quarterback, but threw 10 interceptions on only six touchdowns. Stoudt will start on December 29th. 

The Oklahoma Sooners have performed poorly late in the season as well, especially on defense. This correlates to the price of Sooners Tickets on the secondary market. The Sooners rank 48th in the nation in points allowed, and could not contain the high-powered offenses of TCU, Baylor, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State. Despite the all-American talents of Erik Stryker and Zach Sanchez, they had huge holes in the defense and were exposed by better teams all season. 

Luckily for the Sooners, they don’t have to deal with Watson. Stoudt may lead the team in passing yards, but has been extremely inefficient. If quarterback Trevor Knight can contain his play and not make mistakes, they should be okay. Knight hasn’t played very well at times this season, but the sooners score the 11th most points in the country (38.9). Running back Samaje Perine could have trouble running into a defense that features Vic Beasley, one of the nation’s best defensive linemen. The Sooners may have to depend on the play of Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard. I wouldn’t expect Perine to be a non-factor, as he has been one of the best running backs in the Big 12 all year long. 

Both of these proud programs want to end this season on a positive note, This should be an incredibly hard-fought games by coaches and players who want to revive the image of their seasons. Both of these programs are extraordinarily proud, and this game should fire up both of these teams, especially the seniors.

Jesse Lawrence is the CEO of, a leading online ticket search engine.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Big 12: Think (Hard) Before You Act

The worst thing the Big 12 can do is going for the quick fix. When no such "fix" is needed.

Sure, the conference rightfully feels it got screwed by the selection committee after being the only Power 5 conference left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. But before the Big 12 runs out to hastily extend an invitation to Cincinnati or BYU or whomever to join the conference - or arrange a title game between its top two teams - it needs to ...

Stop. Just stop.

The Big 12 got left out not because it didn't stage a conference title game or because its conference champion didn't play a 13th game. It got left out because the selection committee proved to be no more discerning than the average fan who watches too much ESPN.

The fact is that if you replaced TCU with TEXAS, the Big 12 doesn't lose that final playoff spot to Ohio State and the Big Ten. Or if you replaced OHIO STATE with ILLINOIS, then the Horned Frogs would be on their way to New Orleans to face Alabama in a national semifinal game.

The Big 12 lost out because the schools it had in contention were small, private, Christian colleges, not college football behemoths like the four teams that made it. And in no small part because that's the way ESPN wanted it.

Did you see Kirk Herbstreit in the last three weeks proselytizing on behalf of his alma mat ... uh, Ohio State? Even as the Buckeyes labored to beat Big Ten also-rans Indiana and Michigan, Herbstreit claimed that they were "gaining momentum" and without fail, put Ohio State in his own Final Four week after week.

With the majority of college football games televised by ESPN's networks (not to mention all of the playoff as well as all but one of the 39 bowl games), it's natural for the 12 members of the committee - at least some of them - to fall under the spell of the "Worldwide Leader." When Ohio State blasted Wisconsin, 59-0, with its preseason third-string QB in the Big Ten title game, the committee fell hook, line and sinker.

The committee got reeled in the same way the AP and coaches poll voters did. Despite its struggles against Indiana and Michigan, Ohio State steadily picked up votes during the final weeks of the regulars season, finally vaulting past both Big 12 teams at the end.

And because of that, the simulated BCS standings showed that Ohio State would've been the No. 4 team, seemingly justifying the committee's decision. But the truth is that since the polls accounted for two-thirds of the standings, the voters' inability to keep clear heads from the ESPN-driven media narrative played a key role.

As it turned out, the committee members were no better - or smarter - than these voters.

That's why the Big 12 should not beat itself up over its exclusion from this year's playoff. It's college football, where money always speaks the loudest. ESPN wanted brand names in its tournament and that's what it got. If ESPN had its way, the four-team field will always include Alabama, Ohio State, Texas and USC every year (and Notre Dame if it finally ditches its NBC contract).

TCU was the best team in the Big 12 this year, a fact that's acknowledged by commissioner Bob Bowlsby and every conference coach besides Baylor's Art Briles. The Horned Frogs were better than Ohio State and should've been in the playoff. But since TCU and Baylor shared the conference championship - with Baylor having won head-to-head - that made it convenient for the committee to discard them both.

Would it be any different had Baylor lost another game and therefore made TCU the outright Big 12 winner? Perhaps, but probably not. As one of college football's nouveau riches, the Horned Frogs were basically told to wait for their turn. And this isn't their time yet.

A conference championship game or a 13th game wouldn't have changed that. What would help the Big 12 more is to tell Texas and Oklahoma to get back up to speed, pronto.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

First Final Four in New Era

The College Football Playoff selection committee has some hard choices to make. Starting Friday night in Santa Clara, Calif., and ending Saturday night in Indianapolis, every one of its top six teams from last week won. And it only has four playoff spots to dole out.

But forget the canard that the selection committee looks at the entire picture from scratch every week; the 12 members already tipped their hand last week. The top three teams—Alabama, Oregon and TCU—all won impressively to claim a piece of their respective conference championships. No. 4 Florida State as usual labored to win its game, but as the only unbeaten team in the FBS it will get to defend its national title.

That leaves Ohio State and Baylor on the outside, but the committee can reasonably defend its decision for leaving them out. These two teams easily had the worst losses among the contenders—Ohio State to 6-6 Virginia Tech and Baylor to 7-5 West Virginia—and also the weakest schedules (according to Jeff Sagarin).

Despite Ohio State's impressive thrashing of Wisconsin, the problem remains that the committee views the Big Ten as the weakest Power Five conference, and with good reason. Each of the Big Ten's top four teams lost a nonconference game to a Power Five opponent, and Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech was actually the worst among them.

As for Baylor, its nonconference schedule and how it performed against the nine common opponents will allow the committee to overlook the Bears' head-to-head victory over TCU as both teams shared the Big 12 title with identical 11-1 records.

Of course, unlike the BCS, we can no longer project the rankings with confidence, as the final decision will be made by 12 people and nothing else. And since this is year one of the College Football Playoff, we have no precedent to go by.

That said, this is how we project the committee's final rankings, to be released at 12:45 p.m. ET Sunday.

Projected Final CFP Rankings
RankLwTeamBest Win*Losses*
11AlabamaNo. 8 Miss StateNo. 9 Ole Miss
22OregonNo. 7 Michigan StateNo. 12 Arizona
33TCUNo. 11 Kansas StateNo. 6 Baylor
44Florida StateNo. 10 Georgia TechNone
55Ohio StateNo. 7 Michigan StateVirginia Tech (6-6)
66BaylorNo. 3 TCUWest Virginia (7-5)
78Michigan State2
810Miss State2
912Ole Miss3
109Kansas State3
1111Georgia Tech3
1517Arizona State3
2122Boise State2
* Projected rankings

No. 1 vs. No. 4: Alabama vs. Florida State, Sugar Bowl - The matchup of the teams that won the last three national championships will be intriguing. Florida State was wobbly all season but never lost a game, something the other 127 FBS teams couldn't do. Alabama looks primed to continue its dynasty-interrupted with Lane Kiffin calling the shots of a dynamic offense.

No. 2 vs. No. 3: Oregon vs. TCU, Rose Bowl - It'll be TCU's second Rose Bowl berth in five years—only Wisconsin has more appearances in that span. The last time the Horned Frogs were in Pasadena they were the gritty underdogs from the Mountain West and beat the Badgers to finish the season unbeaten. This time they'll face an explosive Oregon team piloted by the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Group-of-Five Bid
Boise State, the only non-Power Five team in last week's committee rankings, made things easy for the committee by taking care of Fresno State to win the Mountain West title late Saturday night. The Broncos likely will earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, their third in nine years. They beat Oklahoma and TCU in their two previous appearances in the BCS era.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Committee Sets Stage for Final Rankings

Sorry, Baylor.

The selection committee delivered an emphatic message Tuesday night, practically anointing the four teams that will make the inaugural College Football Playoff field. That leaves Baylor and Ohio State on the outside looking in, even if they won their respective final regular-season games.

By moving TCU up one spot to No. 3—over undefeated Florida State (12-0)—the committee is indicating that the Horned Frogs' playoff position is unassailable as long as they defeat 2-9 Iowa State at home Saturday. A Baylor victory over Kansas State will earn the Bears a co-Big 12 championship, but that, along with their 61-58 win over TCU earlier in the season, won't be enough for them to leapfrog TCU.

So that's where we stand with five days remaining before the committee's final rankings are revealed Sunday morning. Here are five other observations:

1. Head-to-head matters, sort of
While it's listed as one of the major criteria for the committee, chairman Jeff Long has consistently downplayed its value. After Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby artfully declined to name "one true champion" on Monday, Long echoed that sentiment a day later.

This gives the committee a convenient out in terms of following one of its other major criteria—conference championship—since the Horned Frogs will be able to share the Big 12 title with the Baylor-Kansas State winner as long as they beat Iowa State.

2. Florida State, undefeated, unloved
Another week, another win, and the Seminoles dropped another spot. Jameis Winston and Co. have strung together a series of ugly victories, but being the only unbeaten team in FBS somehow isn't good enough for the committee (or the Associated Press Top 25, which seems to be aping the committee of late).

The silver lining for FSU is that it's not in danger of falling out of the playoff field as long as it beats No. 11 Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game Saturday, which will account for its best win of the season, according to the current rankings.

3. How would BCS standings have looked?
If the late, great Bowl Championship Series was still in business, its standings would've yielded the same four playoff teams, though in a slightly different order. Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and TCU would be in the top four, with Ohio State and Baylor significantly behind.

A composite of over 100 computer rankings would in fact put Ohio State in the playoff field ahead of Florida State, with Baylor a long way down at No. 8.

4. If there are upsets of Top Four teams, then what?
Other than TCU, the teams currently in the playoff field are all playing conference championship games this weekend. If any of them lose, it figures to benefit Ohio State and Baylor. But because of its ranking, don't discount the possibility of No. 7 Arizona jumping into the four-team playoff with a second victory over Oregon.

5. Stay up late for Group of Five crowning
Boise State is the only team not from the Power Five conferences in the rankings. If the Broncos defeat 6-6 Fresno State for a second time this season, they will clinch their third major bowl bid in nine years, likely another Fiesta Bowl berth. It'll be a late, late show since the Mountain West Championship Game is the last game Saturday night with a 10 p.m. ET kickoff.

Playoff Committee Rankings Comparison
RankTeamB/R MockBCSvs. T25 Then*vs. T25 Now
4Florida St.333-02-0
5Ohio St.552-01-0
8Michigan St.1091-20-2
9Kansas St.8101-21-2
10Miss St.983-21-2
11Georgia Tech12132-02-0
12Ole Miss14113-33-2
17Arizona St.17184-21-2
22Boise St.22220-10-1
* Ranked by AP/committee at time of game