The biggest game of the year is upon us. After a twenty year drought, we have the opportunity to claim our second ACC title in four years. That alone makes this a special season. I'll always remember the Notre Dame game fondly. Our two quick TDs, Watson's 3rd quarter TD run, our defense stuffing the two point conversion, and Boulware's front flip celebration. The Miami blowout was a lot of fun to watch. Stuffing Dalvin Cook on two straight short yardage plays, then having Gallman find the end zone is another memorable sequence. While the USuCk game was ugly at times, it also had its moments, and knowing that the balance of power was back in the right direction in the rivalry leaves one a great feeling. However, those are all memories that I will look back on later. Right now, today, those things don't satisfy. I want the ACC title. I want the playoffs. I want Bama. I want Holyfield! A loss tonight will be understandable, but incredibly unsatisfying. Here's hoping that we take hold of the brass ring, win the conference championship, and launch ourselves into a magical playoff run.
#10 North Carolina vs. #1 Clemson (in Charlotte)
Kickoff at 8:00pm EST
For Clemson, it's easy—we win and we're in. Oklahoma appears to have their playoff ticket punched already, though, as we learned last year, nothing is certain until the final rankings come out. There are three other games that have playoff implications. Unfortunately, two of them will be played at the same time as our game. Thankfully, the SEC plays early in the day, so we have something to hold us over until the evening. Here are my thoughts on the day's lineup:
#18 Florida vs. #2 Alabama (in Atlanta)
Kickoff at 4:00pm EST
I've read that the committee has been debating putting Bama at #1 over us the last few weeks. The Tide has looked strong, no doubt. I had them penciled in for the playoffs pretty early in the season, even after the Ole Miss loss. Derrick Henry probably already has the Heisman wrapped up. They look unstoppable at the moment. Florida's defense is good enough to keep the score low, and with a big special teams play or two, they could keep the game within reach. Will they have enough offense to capitalize on the opportunity? Will they have any offense at all? Doubtful. Alabama should win easily and be in the playoffs. There's a chance that with a strong showing Bama could take over as #1. I wouldn't like it or agree with it, but we'll take back the top spot in due time. Tide 34 - Gators 13
#20 USC vs. #7 Stanford (in Santa Clara)
Kickoff at 7:45pm EST
USC's only "good" wins are against Utah, who, despite my moral support, has fallen to the fringe of the top 25, and now-unranked UCLA. They also have losses to two 6-6 teams on their resume. Not to mention, Stanford has already beaten them this year. Stanford lost a head-scratcher against NW at the beginning of the year and a close game to an late-blooming Oregon team. Stanford is a disciplined team with one of the most dynamic players in college football. The Trojans have talent, but it's hard for me to imagine them winning this one. This game (probably) only matters to the playoff picture if Clemson and/or Bama loses. I'm okay with the committee punishing Oklahoma for not having a 13th game, even though they can claim the conference championship. However, it seems highly unlikely, though not impossible, that Stanford could jump Oklahoma. If Clemson loses and Bama wins, does a two loss Stanford team get in over a one loss North Carolina? If Clemson wins and Bama loses, does Stanford take Bama's place? Those are interesting questions, but ones I hope we don't have to ask. Cardinal 37 - Trojans 34
#5 Michigan State vs. #4 Iowa (in Indianapolis)
Kickoff at 8:00pm EST
Iowa doesn't look pretty. They don't have any flash. They don't have any real standout players. They don't win by large margins. They haven't played a difficult schedule. They have methodically worked their way through their season without stumbling. They have largely flown under the radar and hadn't really gotten any respect for their undefeated season until the last few weeks, and even then, they're still ranked behind two one loss teams. Michigan State, on the other hand, has played in some high profile games this season. The ending of their game with Michigan was one that will be remembered for a long time. They have a close, but ugly loss to Nebraska on their resume, but they balanced it out by finally getting Ohio State out of the playoff conversation. Sparty seems to have rebounded health-wise and thus, should be as strong as they have been all season. Michigan State is the popular pick and the proven commodity. I don't think anyone knows how good Iowa is or is not. Whoever wins is going to the playoffs. Sparty's "been there" and Iowa is just too unproven. Sparty 41 - Iowa 24
With the regular season over, I wanted to take a look back and see how I have done picking games this year. In regards to my preseason expectations for the Tigers, I was way off. Though my worries about our defense are coming to fruition before our eyes, the rest of my worries were unfounded. I predicted us to go 9-4 with a crappy bowl win. I am so incredibly glad to have been wrong. If I had been picking from week to week, the Notre Dame game would've been the only loss I predicted. Since I didn't, I'll acknowledge my preseason predictions were terrible and happily eat crow on this one.
In regards to my week to week predictions, I did a little better. Of course, I picked the games that I picked, which some may think tilts things in my favor. On the other hand, I almost always picked the games I thought were going to be tightly-contested or noteworthy games. So, how did I do? Picking winners and losers, with no regard to spread or margin of victory, I was 42-19. I started and finished the year strong with a mid-season lull. I went 13-3 in the first three weeks and 13-1 in the last three weeks. I was 16-15 in the seven weeks in between. I missed most of the big upsets, but correctly called a lot of the high profile matchups. Overall, it was a pretty good year. To anyone who has read this article each week, and has made it this far today, thank you. It's been a lot of fun.