Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice … but three times? Seriously? What, we’re just supposed to expect little-engine-that-could Arizona to beat powerhouse Oregon for the third time in a row?
Sorry, but I can’t do it. The only thing I know for sure about the No. 2 Ducks vs. the No. 7 Wildcats in Friday’s Pac-12 title game (8 p.m., Fox-32) is that Marcus Mariota and the best team west of the Mississippi is going to the College Football Playoff. At least I think I know that. Don’t I know it?
Geez, I really don’t.
Arizona (10-2) hasn’t just beaten the Ducks — 31-24 this season in Eugene and 42-16 last year in Tucson — but it has thrown them, and especially the great Mariota, completely off their game. Mariota has a Pac-12 record 48 total touchdowns in 2014, which is mindboggling enough, but get a load of his 36 passing TDs to only two interceptions — amazing. Yet the Wildcats have made the closest thing college football has to a perfect quarterback turn the ball over multiple times per meeting.
“Some of it was great individual effort,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, “and some of it was a little bit of luck.”
Scooby Wright’s sack-and-strip of Mariota on Oregon’s final drive in October did more than turn the linebacker into a national star. It invigorated an entire program.
And yet … I just can’t do it. Oregon (11-1) scores more than Arizona (45.9 points per game to 36.7) and yields fewer (23.3 to 25.5), and to me that equals better. Ducks prove it, 44-30.
On to Saturday and the four games with both conference-title and — some of these teams hope, anyway — playoff implications. It starts with No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Missouri for the championship of the Southeastern Conference (3 p.m., Ch. 2). Everyone and Gary Pinkel’s brother believes the Crimson Tide (11-1) will win this game, and it’s an all-or-nothing scenario for the SEC in terms of the playoff. Win, and the Tide are assured of being the No. 1 seed. But if Pinkel’s Tigers (10-2) spring the upset, well …
“I don’t make predictions,” said the coach. “We’re just doing what we do. We want to play well and whatever happens, happens.”
What happens in the unlikely event of a Mizzou victory is the SEC gets shut out of the playoff. That would be to the delight of many in other parts of the country, but it’s not going to happen.
The Tide are the best pass-blocking team in the league (11 sacks allowed), which neutralizes the Tigers’ greatest strength as the SEC’s top pass-rushing squad (40 sacks). Not sure where Mizzou even begins to stop the best wide receiver in the land, Amari Cooper (103 catches, 1,573 yards, 14 touchdowns). And we can’t overlook the fact Pinkel’s recent teams are oh-fer in four recent Big 12 or SEC title-game opportunities. Thanks for playing, but ’Bama crushes it, 36-13.
Lost amid all the talk about Baylor and TCU and which one-loss Big 12 team more deserves a spot in the playoff is the fact they aren’t the only teams with a shot to share the conference championship. Here comes No. 9 Kansas State at No. 6 Baylor (6:45 p.m.) — truly a tossup of a game — and the winner will finish 8-1 in Big 12 play just like TCU whether the Horned Frogs or the playoff selection committee likes it or not.
The Wildcats (9-2) are the overlooked team in this mix, but they don’t feel second-best to anybody.
“We’re going to be ready to go,” said defensive end Ryan Mueller. “We’re going to prepare like we’ve never prepared before. We know what’s on the line.”
Quarterback Bryce Petty of the 10-1 Bears is expected back after sustaining a concussion last weekend. If he’s just a little bit off, K-State is good enough to take advantage. Oddly, Bill Snyder, one of the best coaches in the sport, has a career record of 0-10 in games matching top 10 teams. Time for ol’ Bill to get off the schneid. Wildcats by a whisker, 35-34.
Here we go again, with No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech (7 p.m., Ch. 7) in yet another game that might put the 12-0 Seminoles in serious danger. Some might say it’s the Seminoles who’ve repeatedly put themselves in danger, but let’s not quibble over that and miss the point about the 10-2 Yellow Jackets — they’ve been as good as any team in the country during a 5-0 stretch run.
What gives Tech an added chance in this Atlantic Coast Conference title tilt is their triple-option offense that FSU simply doesn’t see often, if at all, from any other opponent. Ironically, Paul Johnson has had recent teams in Atlanta that were more explosive in the running game than this one is. Remember the named of quarterback Justin Thomas and ball-carriers Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days, who surely will throw FSU’s defense for a loop or two. But the ’Noles escape once more, 34-30.
Would Ohio State have to worry about fighting for its playoff life were it not for season-ending injuries to two different elite quarterbacks? Would Wisconsin have two defeats — or even one — had incumbent starter Joel Stave not been plagued throughout the early part of this season by the “yips”? Suffice it to say, both the No. 5 Buckeyes and the No. 13 Badgers look at the Big Ten title game (7:17 p.m., Fox-32) as an opportunity to make, if nothing else, a lasting statement.
Let’s all hope OSU’s once-No. 3 quarterback, redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, has some Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett in him. And let’s certainly hope Wisconsin rushing machine Melvin Gordon (national-best 2,260 yards) is good to go after spraining his ankle last weekend.
This game could have been even bigger — a lot bigger — from a national perspective, but it still means plenty. And for the record: Bucky 30, Bucks 20.