Tramel college football predictions: Title games often are duds
The Southeastern Conference has staged 28 championship football games. Only six of those 28 have been determined by single digits and only three since 1997.
The Big 12 has staged 18 championship football games. Only six have been determined by single digits.
The Big Ten has staged nine championship games. Four have been determined by single digits, but the most memorable games were Wisconsin’s 70-31 rout of Nebraska (2012) and Ohio State’s 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin (2014).
The Atlantic Coast Conference has staged 15 championship games. Seven have been determined by single digits, but Clemson has won the last three by scores of 62-17, 42-10 and 38-3.
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The Pac-12 has staged nine championship games. Only three were determined by single digits.
The data is clear. What should be marquee events often turn out to be duds.
Remember the initial argument against conference title games, that they could cost a league a playoff spot via upset? The opposite is true.
The Big 12 has produced more duds than classics in its championship games. For every Texas 37, Nebraska 27, there’s an Oklahoma 62, Missouri 21. For every Texas A&M 36, Kansas State 33, there’s a Texas 70, Colorado 3.
The SEC is no better. Florida dominated the conference in the 1990s and Alabama has dominated in recent years, mostly with runaways in Atlanta. Since 2007, the SEC has staged only two thrillers -- Alabama wins over Georgia of 32-28 in 2012 and 35-28 in 2018.
What’s the root? Well, unbalanced divisions probably are the cause.
In the early days of the Big 12, the North Division clearly was superior. In the 2000s, the South reigned supreme. In the early days of SEC divisional play, the East was best. Now, for a long time, it’s been the West.
In the Big Ten, the East has dominated.
The ACC has been marred by single-team dominance, first Florida State and now Clemson.
The Big 12 did away with divisional play in 2011 and returned to the championship game in 2017, and the games have better. The three Big 12 title games with No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the conference standings have been collectively better than the previous Big 12 norm. OU’s 39-27 survival of Texas in 2018 and the 30-23 overtime conquest of Baylor in 2019 were excellent games.
This weekend brings another slate of conference title games, and at least two of the marquee games appear to be one-sided -- Ohio State-Northwestern and Alabama-Florida.
What should be riveting football often isn’t. It might be up to the Big 12 to save the day.
Let’s get to the predictions:
Oklahoma vs. Iowa State in Big 12 championship at Arlington: Cyclones 31-29. Biggest game in Iowa State football history. Literally. Biggest game.
Northwestern vs. Ohio State in Big Ten championship at Indianapolis: Buckeyes 44-7. Since opening the season with a 43-3 rout of Maryland, Northwestern’s point total has ranged from 28 (vs. Illinois) to 17 (vs. Wisconsin). That probably won’t cut it against Ohio State.
Alabama vs. Florida in SEC championship at Atlanta: Crimson Tide 52-24. This is the 10th Bama-Florida matchup in an SEC title game.
Clemson vs. Notre Dame in ACC championship at Charlotte: Tigers 31-24. The game of the day. Can the Fighting Irish repeat their upset of Clemson in South Bend?
Oregon at Southern Cal in Pac-12 championship: Trojans 26-24. The fallacy of the title games in this COVID-19 season. The Ducks didn’t qualify for the game. They got to take Washington’s place when the Huskies failed to meet pandemic thresholds.
Tulsa at Cincinnati in American championship: Golden Hurricane 19-17. TU’s constantly-interrupted season still has been excellent, with no defeats since that September 19 game in Stillwater, when OSU won 16-7.
Boise State at San Jose State in Mountain West championship: Broncos 30-27. The Spartans are quarterbacked by Nick Starkel, who many years ago committed to OSU before switching to Texas A&M.
Ball State vs. Buffalo in Mid-American championship at Detroit: Bulls 49-30. You’ve got to admire a mid-major conference that plays its title game on a neutral field. It’s a sign of class.
Alabama-Birmingham at Marshall in Conference USA championship: Blazers 28-26. The most inexplicable result of the season, any conference, was Rice’s 20-0 upset of Marshall.
Texas A&M at Tennessee: Aggies 34-17. A&M remains in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. An upset could make the Volunteers’ season.
Ole Miss at LSU: Tigers 35-25. The Rebels have played just twice since Halloween.
Missouri at Mississippi State: Tigers 31-20. Mizzou has been in the SEC since 2012, and this is the Tigers’ first trip to Starkville.
Nebraska at Rutgers: Scarlet Knights 27-20. How did Rutgers arrive at a place with a brighter future than the Cornhuskers?
Minnesota at Wisconsin: Badgers 19-14. In mid-November, Wisconsin was 2-0 and considered a threat to Ohio State. Since then, the Badgers have scored seven points on Northwestern, six on Indiana and seven on Iowa.
Illinois at Penn State: Nittany Lions 41-14. The Illini fired Lovie Smith. Maybe the Bears would like him back.
Washington State at Utah: Utes 38-25. No Division I-A team has played fewer games than the three played by WSU.
Stanford at UCLA: Bruins 41-16. UCLA has shown a ton of progress under Chip Kelly, but the last-minute loss to Southern Cal was a back-breaker.
Michigan State at Maryland: Terrapins 22-21. Michigan State, 2-5 in the Big Ten, is tied with Illinois and Nebraska for the worst record in the conference.
Arizona State at Oregon State: Sun Devils 35-19. I’ve seen more Oregon State football than I’ve seen of half the Big 12 and most of the rest of the nation. Credit late-night kickoffs out West.
Air Force at Army: Black Knights 19-7. The Commander-in-Chief Trophy is on the line, a week after the Army-Navy game.
Last week: 25-12. Season: 368-133.