Zach Mettenberger,  Jeremy Hill

Weekend Preview: LSU has what it takes to battle Alabama, BCS busters and more

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The biggest games of the week may have been played Thursday night, but the Saturday line-up  is not all that shabby either.

Alabama vs. LSU

Nobody has been safe in the SEC this season. Everybody has taken a loss except for one team, Alabama. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa the Crimson Tide host LSU. The SEC West match-up may not have quite the same magnitude recent meetings have had, but with the season winding down there is no good time to take a loss now for Alabama. Of course, that hasn’t exactly hurt them before. Could this year turn out to be different? Alabama cannot risk it to find out.

LSU is one of the few teams to have been able to handle the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. LSU has won five of the last six games in Alabama. Alabama’s only win at home against LSU since 1999 came in a 24-15 victory in 2009. So, does LSU have a chance at knocking of Alabama once more? Why wouldn’t they?

LSU has all of the ingredients they need to pull the upset. the Tigers have one of he top quarterbacks in the SEC (Zach Mettenberger), a power running game led by one of the top rushers in the SEC (Jeremy Hill) and one of the top defenses in the SEC. The problem for LSU is Alabama has all of those things as well.

A loss for Alabama may put a temporary dent on the bus to the SEC Championship, but no matter what happens it appears The Iron Bowl with Auburn is going to be huge.

ACC Championship Chase

Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) is in a good spot in the BCS championship, but still must make sure to finish the year strong in ACC play. Florida State will look to avoid a huge upset Saturday when they travel to Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4 ACC). This should be a game that sees some big numbers put up by the Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston (Marcus Mariota‘s performance Thursday likely results in Winston leading the pack). Letting up at this point in the year is probably not wise for Florida State as there are other undefeated teams on the prowl for a trip to Pasadena. Don’t count on Florida State having a sluggish afternoon.

While Florida State may have the Atlantic Division pretty much wrapped up, the Coastal Division is still up for grabs. Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC), despite losing running back Duke Johnson in the loss to Florida State last week, still sits in a good spot in the division. The Hurricanes host Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2)  Saturday in what may be the biggest hurdle the rest of the way before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game. Stephen Morris will have to be smart with his pass selection because the Hokies have one of the tougher defenses in the ACC. Without Johnson, the Hurricanes will look to Dallas Crawford, who should be more than capable of handling the responsibilities.

BCS Buster Watch

Entering the week Fresno State (8-0, 5-0 MWC) remains in the perfect position for a BCS bowl berth. The Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the BCS rankings and ahead of the top contenders in The American (we’ll get to that conference in a moment). As long as Derek Carr can lead the Bulldogs to a road win at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2 MWC) Fresno State should remain in a good spot with time winding down in the regular season.

Northern Illinois (9-0, 5-0 MAC) dropped a spot in the BCS standings to 18th overall, but the Huskies still remain in striking distance of making a return trip to the BCS stage. As long as Fresno state keeps winning though, it will be tough to see Northern Illinois sneak in one more time.

Chasing The American Dream

The American Athletic Conference championship picture will be a bit more clear after this weekend. The key game to pay attention to will feature Central Florida (6-1, 3-0 AAC) and surprising Houston (7-1, 4-0 AAC). UCF is ranked 21st in the BCS rankings, which is vital to Fresno State and Northern Illinois, but the Knights and Cougars will battle for the pole position for the conference’s automatic BCS berth. If Central Florida wins this weekend, the berth will be their’s to blow having already beaten Louisville this season. A Houston win could open up a bit of a complicated situation in the conference. Houston visits Louisville next week. If Houston wins this weekend and Louisville defeats Houston next week, a three-way tie at the top of the conference would be left to untangle. But let’s worry about that later if we need to. The big key this weekend is whether or not Central Florida wins. A win could make a case to bump the Knights up in the rankings, either closing the gap on Fresno State and NIU or passing them altogether.

The quarterback battle between Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Houston’s John O’Korn should be an entertaining one. Bortles will also be put to the test though, with Houston leading the nation in turnover margin with a +20, highlighted by 17 interceptions.

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  The Miami Hurricanes kick off to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.

Purdue could be awfully fun with Jeff Brohm reportedly hired as next coach

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Jeff Brohm of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers  looks on during the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl against the South Florida Bulls at Marlins Park on December 21, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Purdue has its next coach, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman and FootballScoop, and will hire Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm.

Brohm engineered an exciting, explosive spread offense with the Hilltoppers, leading Western Kentucky to back-to-back Conference USA titles in 2015 and 2016 and the program’s only two double digit-win seasons. Western Kentucky went 12-2 in 2015 and finished No. 24 in the AP poll, the program’s only top-25 ranking in its 10-year FBS history.

Under Brohm, Western Kentucky’s offense ranked 9th in S&P+ in 2014, 4th in 2015 and 9th in 2016. The high-flying Hilltoppers averaged 44.4, 44.3 and 41.9 points per game in Brohm’s three years.

Making Brohm’s accomplishments in Bowling Green, Ky. more impressive is that he maintained a high level of offensive success from 2015 to 2016 after losing star quarterback Brad Doughty, who threw for over 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns in the Hilltoppers’ 12-2 2015 campaign. Mike White stepped in this year and threw for 4,027 yards with 34 touchdowns, signaling that Brohm’s system wasn’t successful just because of one good quarterback.

Obviously, Big Ten defenses will be a step up from those Brohm’s teams faced in C-USA. But Purdue does have the advantage of being in the fairly wide-open Big Ten West, in which a team can have a far easier time breaking through than in the brawling Big Ten East. While Wisconsin is a rock-solid program, in any given year getting past Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois is feasible.

This won’t be an immediate turnaround in West Lafayette for Brohm, of course. But this is a program with plenty of offensive success in the last two decades (see: Brees, Drew) that looks like a very, very interesting fit for Brohm.

Tyson Summers fires both co-OCs after first season at Georgia Southern

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 05: Head coach Tyson Summers of the Georgia Southern Eagles reacts during the second half of a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It was not a good first season for Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers. Hired away from the Colorado State defensive coordinator job, Summers moved into his first head coaching job at a successful program with a very specific expectation for how offensive football should work.

After enjoying a 17-7 mark in two seasons under Willie Fritz — including a 14-2 mark in Sun Belt pay — Georgia Southern slipped to 5-7 in Summers’s first season. Beyond that, though, the Eagles couldn’t move the football.

Georgia Southern dropped from 24th to 79th in scoring offense, 24th to 104th in yards per play and from first to 29th in rushing, as their 363 yards per game average wilted to 224. It got so bad that Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein felt the need to issue a release Saturday stating Summers would indeed return for a second season in 2017, but his offensive coordinators were not so fortunate. Georgia Southern announced Sunday that co-offensive coordinators David Dean and Rance Gillespie will not return.

“Decisions like these are never easy,” Summers said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for both David and Rance as people and football coaches, but we did not have the production nor the scoring numbers we had hoped for.

“We need to get back to our roots of having one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the country. That begins with me and the hiring of a coordinator who will fit that culture.”

Gillespie coached quarterbacks and initially called plays before having that duty revoked and handed to Dean midway through the season. Dean also coached wide receivers.

Alabama, Ohio State opens as CFP semifinal favorites

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 14:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after Kenyan Drake #17 injured himself defending a kickoff to the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The 2016 College Football Playoff pairings are out, and it didn’t take long for No. 1 Alabama to be established as a heavy favorite in Vegas.

Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite over Washington in the Peach Bowl, while Ohio State was a 3-point favorite over Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

For his credit, Washington head coach Chris Petersen had a light perspective on facing ‘Bama.

This marks the 243rd consecutive game Alabama opens as a favorite (approximately), while, according to Charleston Post & Courier beat writer Aaron Brenner, Clemson has opened as the underdog for the sixth consecutive post-season game.

While not related to the betting line, Nike also emerged as a big winner on Sunday. For the third consecutive year the Swoosh will outfit all four Playoff teams. As per (recent) tradition, Nike will make slight alterations to each team’s kits ahead of the Playoff.