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This is it, people, the last weekend of the regular season. (Well, not really. The last weekend - Week 16 - is actually next weekend for the Army-Navy game, possibly the best tradition for closing out a year in any sport.) After all the jockeying, polls, rankings, and blather expended on same, we get to see how the playoff spots shake out. We will get answers to questions such as: Does Florida State merit a playoff berth just because they've gone undefeated? Will Ohio State have an opportunity to embarrass themselves on a national stage (again)? Will the Committee ignore a head-to-head victory in favor of the "eye test?" What does eye test mean? Does it have anything to do with tiny lines of blurry letters? Did Ohio State clone Braxton Miller in the offseason? How many yards does Melvin Gordon need to lock up the Heisman? And finally, how badly do we miss the BCS HAL 9000?
Friday 8 p.m.
Pac-12 Championship Game
#7 Arizona (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) vs. #2 Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) Friday , 8 p.m.
Line: Oregon -15.5
The Wildcats earned a spot in the conference championship game last weekend by beating rival Arizona State, with help from UCLA's loss to Stanford. (We inadvertently omitted the 'Zona-ASU matchup from our rundown of rivalry games. The two play for the Territorial Cup, possibly the most pedestrian name of any traditional match-up. Once called the Duel in the Desert, the game was Nerfed in 2009 when State Farm picked up the sponsorship.)
With a 3-2 record against ranked teams, including a win over Oregon, a win by Arizona forces the conversation about expanding the playoff field to eight. The Wildcats' schedule bears only two blemishes: A close loss to #25 USC and an L to #22 UCLA. Should Arizona win, the entire college football world should turn to the Playoff Committee to say, "Well, so much for your system. But you shouldn't feel too bad. The four-team selection process had a good run. One whole season, after all, that's about what we should expect for a half-baked compromise bound to leave nearly everyone dissatisfied. Nice job."
Our pick: The Wildcats and the points. How do you not back Arizona in this game? The Vegas action supports the move: Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the action on the point spread is riding on the 'dogs.
Saturday's Big-12 Games
Iowa State (2-9, 0-8 Big 12) vs. #3 TCU (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), 11 a.m.
Line: TCU -34.5
Oklahoma State (5-6, 3-5 Big 12) vs. #20 Oklahoma (8-3, 5-3 Big 12), 2:30 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma -21
#9 Kansas State (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) vs. #6 Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), 6:45 p.m.
Line: Baylor -8
The lack of a championship game in the Big 12 adds an extra layer of goofiness to the frantic reshuffling bound to happen in the final Playoff rankings. Wins by TCU and Baylor would result in a split conference championship and put the Committee in an impossible quandary. With a head-to-head win over TCU and a win over a Top 10 opponent in the final weekend, Baylor almost without question deserves a spot. TCU has the advantage of sitting in the top four, and inertia seems to set in once a team reaches that level. This is where we miss the BCS and the cold-hearted algorithms of the BCS HAL 9000. After making a decision, humans find rationale to support the choice, often making irrational ongoing choices to support the initial decision. Changing our minds is hard. We prefer to think of ourselves as logical beings capable of making smart choices, so rethinking and second-guessing ourselves causes stress. We don't like stress. Thus, observers should expect the Committee, if given even a sliver of an opportunity, to keep TCU in and Baylor out if both teams win. For example, a blowout win by TCU and a close victory by Baylor could justify that decision. Which is precisely what will happen. Let's get it over with and put the Committee behind glass, place bananas at random behind 25 trap doors and use the results as the selection process. Might as well.
Our picks: Iowa State (for the hell of it), Baylor, and Oklahoma.
The other big conference championships on Saturday:
#1 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. #16 Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC), 3 p.m.
Line: Alabama -14.5
#4 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 ACC) vs. #11 Georgia Tech (10-2, 6-2 ACC), 7 p.m.
Line: Florida State -4
#13 Wisconsin (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. #5 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten), 7:17 p.m.
Line: Wisconsin -4.5
Let there be chaos. Should the favorites hold serve, all three are in. Even a loss by 'Bama (very unlikely) won't drop the Tide out of the top four, so let's ignore that one. Should the Seminoles lose, however . . . things will get interesting. In fact, we suspect the Committee may be rooting for the Rambling Wreck to pull off the upset. After all, if FSU drops out of the picture, that's one more spot for TCU or Baylor (see above). But the better possibility is a loss by the jinxed Buckeyes. Starting QB J.T. Barrett, himself a second-stringer, went down with a broken ankle last week, leaving OSU ripe for the picking for Wisco RB Melvin Gordon and his road-grating offensive line. An upset (so says Vegas, based on the spread) by Ohio State really puts the squeeze on the selection process. Will the Committee assume the Buckeyes can't compete at an elite level with a backup's backup? We figure only a dominating W will nudge OSU into the top four, depending on how all the other dominoes fall. Starting around 8 p.m., Saturday night will start to get very, very intriguing with Baylor, Florida State and Ohio State all in play. Those of you attending a wedding (say) or some other formal event may want to plan a few secret missions to the TV in the lobby. Pick your spots. The Chicken Dance, for example, is a prime opportunity to duck out.
Our picks: Alabama, Florida State, and Ohio State. A boring 3-0 for the chalk, yes, but we don't have faith in the Badgers and would rather back a third-string quarterback. People often discount such players. After all, Urban Meyer recruited (we think) the kid to play for Ohio State just like everyone else on the roster. He must have some talent. Unless he's the son of some local big-shot car dealer, in which case we reserve the right to rescind this pick.
The Chicken's Picks
Not to neglect all the little guys in action on Saturday, here are the fowl's selections from among a carefully color-coded pile of kernels:
Northern Illinois (-6.5) vs. Bowling Green, Friday, 6 p.m.
Louisiana Tech vs. Marshall (-10.5), Saturday 11 a.m.
Fresno State vs. #22 Boise State (-23), Saturday, 9 p.m.
Mike Luce is our man on campus - every Friday and Monday. He welcomes your comments.