Championship Weekend

With all due respect to the Army-Navy game next Saturday (and it does deserve our respect), the College Football Regular Season ends this weekend.  And if you love College Football like I do, then you need to remember the year 1992.  That’s long before I-phones, I-pads, tablets and smartphones.  Yes, that’s back in the day when if you wanted to make a phone call on the road, you actually had to find a pay phone.  Texting while driving wasn’t an issue.

The landscape of College Football changed forever in 1992 when the Southeastern Conference picked up Arkansas from the Southwest Conference and South Carolina which had been playing football as an independent while the rest of their sports played in the old Metro Conference, and added a conference football championship game.  Look, I’m no shill for the SEC and in fact some of the SEC fan bases (PARTICULARLY ALABAMA), feel they invented football and if you live in an SEC city like I do, all their conference bragging will wear you out, but the decision to go to 12 teams and add a conference championship game changed the game leading to conference expansion, multi-billion dollar television deals and to things like this weekend when 8 conferences will hold Championship games.

All of the quote “Power 5” have conference championship games except the Big XII, which ironically was the second conference to add one in 1996 when the league was formed by combining the Big 8 with 4 defectors from the Southwest Conference.  Since the SEC went to a championship game in 1992 and the Big XII in 1996, the MAC added one in 1997, the ACC and Conference USA in 2005, the PAC-12 and Big-10 in 2011 and this year the American joins the party with its first championship game between Temple and Houston.  These conferences aren’t doing it because it’s cool.  They are doing it because they saw just how lucrative the SEC game was and they wanted the money for their conference coffers.  The SEC held its first two games in Birmingham at that relic of a stadium known as Legion Field.  Since 1994 it’s found a home in Atlanta, which frankly is epicenter of the conference.  It will remain in Atlanta until at least 2027 moving from the Georgia Dome in 2017 to the Falcons new Mercedez Benz Stadium next door.  This weekend’s match-up features Alabama against Florida. These two played the first two SEC Title games against each other in 1992 and 1993 and it’s the most played conference championship game as they meet for the 8th time in the title game on Saturday.  The only other match-up to be played more than twice is LSU against Georgia, who have played three times.  Of the current 14 teams in the Conference, 10 have played in the title game.  Only Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have not played for the championship, and if you think Vanderbilt is going to make it some day you might want to avoid the rush and go ahead and join the flat earth society.

The ACC Title game had a bit tougher time finding its sea legs mostly because the first three games were played in Jacksonville, Florida of all places, a city some have nicknamed “Buffalo by the Sea.”  The first game did well as Florida State played Virginia Tech, but by 2008 the conference moved the game first to Tampa (which honestly makes less sense than Jacksonville) before it finally found a home where it should be in Charlotte.  Florida State and Virginia Tech lead the way with the most appearances with 5 apiece.  FSU has won 4 times, Va. Tech three times.  No other school has won more than one time although Clemson can change that this week when they face North Carolina, a first timer from the ACC’s Coastal Division.  Of the current 14 teams in the league, only 8 have ever appeared in the title game.  Duke and Wake Forest have played in the championship game, but Miami hasn’t.  I doubt the ACC counted on that when they brought Miami into the conference with Va. Tech in 2004.  North Carolina becomes the 8th team to appear in the title game this weekend seeking their first ACC Championship since 1980, when a pretty fair player named Lawrence Taylor was coming off the edge on defense.

There’s a general feeling among the quote “college football experts” that the 4 team playoff will eventually expand to 8 teams.  That won’t happen though if the conferences lose their title games and it really won’t happen if the Rose Bowl decides not to participate.  These title games aren’t going anywhere.  The Georgia Dome will be filled to capacity this weekend mostly with fans from Alabama and all across the country championship fever hits stadiums and campuses.  1992 may have been simpler in many ways – after all you could disappear for a few days in 1992 and no one knew how to find you – but if you love college football you’ll be thankful that the season no longer ends before Thanksgiving.

As I said, there are 8 championship games this weekend, along with a handful of regular season games from the Big XII, and the Sun Belt Conference.  It gets started tonight at Ford Field in Detroit with the MAC Championship game between Bowling Green and Northern Illinois.  These two schools have combined to win the last 4 MAC titles with Northern Illinois winning three of those.  Bowling Green’s coach appears to be on the move to a better job after this game so I like the Falcons to send him out with a conference championship.

The SEC Title game is a real dud.  Alabama is a 17 point favorite and I frankly will be shocked if it is that close.  Florida coach Jim McElwain has somehow held his team together with tape and Elmer’s glue through injuries and idiots, but they aren’t playing well right now.  In fact, just two weeks ago McElwain compared his team to dead fish on ice in a supermarket.  That’s not a good thing when Alabama has bruising running back Derek Henry to unleash.  I expect Bama to just keep feeding him the ball and cruise to the title and the 4 team playoff.

In the ACC, give all the credit to North Carolina coach Larry Fedora for guiding his team to an 11-1 record and it’s first division championship.  But, Clemson is just too good (and I never thought I would say that).  Bank of America Stadium will be overflowing Saturday night and the atmosphere should be terrific and while I do think it will be competitive and close, Clemson wins to also claim a spot in the 4-team playoff.

In Conference USA, Southern Miss faces Western Kentucky.  These two score points, and then score more points.  Western Kentucky is a popular pick, but I’m taking Southern Miss in an upset.

In the PAC-12, USC meets Stanford in a rematch of a regular season game won by Stanford.  Popular pick would be Stanford, but actually I like USC to win a spot in the Rose Bowl since the PAC-12 appears to be on the outside looking in at the 4-team playoff this year.

The Big-10 matches Michigan State and Iowa at the Big Barn known as Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.  I picked Michigan State to win the Big-10 at the beginning of the year, and I’m not changing that view now although I was way off on Iowa calling the school the home of the most overrated, overpaid football coach in the country.  It happens, and besides Iowa typically follows a great year like this one with a series of 6 and 7 win seasons.

In the Mountain West, I like San Diego State over Air Force.  But, honestly the most entertaining game could be the American championship game in Houston between Houston and Temple.  They score points and are fun to watch, but as Houston is at home – and features a quarterback that is absolutely fun to watch – I like Houston to win the title and a likely spot in what is known as one of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games.

Other games this weekend, Baylor to beat Texas, Ga. Southern over Ga. State, La.-Monroe over New Mexico State, Arkansas State over Texas State, Kansas State needs to beat West Virginia to finish 6-6 and assure itself a bowl game although they could get there at 5-7.  It ain’t happening, West Virginia wins its 8th game on the road.  La.-Lafayette over Troy, and Appalachian State can win its 10th game by beating South Alabama on the road.  The Mountaineers had a struggle moving up from FCS to FBS for a couple of years, but are about to get rewarded with their first ever bowl game.

The Lower Divisions continue their post-season.  It’s down the final 16 in the FCS playoffs and for our featured game we go to one of my favorite cities Charleston, South Carolina where the 9-2 Charleston Southern Buccaneers face the 9-3 Citadel Bulldogs in an inner-city rematch of a regular season game.  Charleston Southern is actually located in North Charleston and is playing its first-ever playoff game this weekend.  It’s also the first time the school has ever played a football game in December.  Charleston Southern is a young school, opening its doors as “Baptist College” in 1964.  The Bucs won the Big South Championship this year and beat The Citadel earlier this season 33-20 on September 26th.  These schools meet annually.  This is the 10th meeting between the two, the Citadel leads 5-4, but Charleston Southern has won the last 3 games.

It’s down to the quarterfinals in Division II (also known as the Super Region Finals).  Our featured game takes us to Carrollton, Georgia where the 11-1 West Georgia Wolves host the 10-2 Golden Tigers of Tuskeegee for the Championship of Super Region II.  Tuskeegee is located in Tuskeegee, Alabama and was founded by  Booker T. Washington and is the only college campus in the United States designated a National Historic Site by the National Park Service.  The Golden Tigers won their first two playoff games in school history this season.  In 1941, the United States Army Air Corps established a training program at the school in order to train black aviators.  The first graduates of the program became the famed “Tuskeegee Airmen”.

Division III takes us to Alliance, Ohio where 12-0 Mount Union hosts the 11-1 Wesley Wolverines.  This is the fifth meeting in the last seven seasons between these two schools, 4 of those in the playoffs.  Mount Union has won them all while running up an 88-15 overall record in the Division III playoffs and winning 11 National Championships. The Purple Raiders have appeared in the Division III Title game 18 times and have won 24 straight Ohio Athletic Conference Championships.  Mount Union features the nation’s best defense allowing just 159.5 yards per game, while Wesley has the nation’s top offense rolling up 602.4 yards per game.

It’s semi-final weekend in the NAIA as 10-2 Southern Oregon visits 12-1 Morningside, and 10-2 Marian of Indiana faces 11-0 St. Francis of Indiana.  The winners advance to the National Championship game in two weeks in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Enjoy the final weekend.  Man, did it go quickly…

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