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Friday, December 6, 2013

College Football, Conference Championship Edition: Urban Meyer's Quest

As the 2013 college football season slowly winds down, we finally get to put to rest which team (or conference for that matter) can lay claim to best in the nation. Or, if our team doesn't win this weekend, we can argue why next year's playoff system will prove they are the best team.

For Ohio State, it finally gets to play a meaningful game for the first time in two seasons. Try telling that to the Buckeye faithful, however, and you're sure to get an earful. But the national perception remains that the Buckeyes, winners of 24 straight games, have failed to play a single game of significance since the fall of 2011. Either their competition has been too inferior(read: weak nonconference schedule or inferior Big Ten opponents), or their bowl ban of 2012 didn't allow them to participate in the postseason.

Yet few outside Buckeye Nation can truly appreciate the job Urban Meyer has done in his two years as head coach of Ohio State. A man who many OSU fans had mixed feelings about--his detractors worried that he would bolt for a better job at the first chance--I think he has won over even his harshest critics in Columbus nowadays. Winning 24 straight games tends to have that effect--regardless of mainstream media's opinion about him.

Nationally, Meyer's winning streak is not taken seriously for several reasons. First and foremost, it is assumed that Ohio State--who must play a schedule weaker than teams in the SEC, PAC-12, and even the ACC--would not be able to go undefeated if they played outside the Big Ten. Yet I would counter that even Alabama would find it hard to run the table two straight seasons in the Big Ten. Let's not forget that most teams in the SEC never have to worry about playing in adverse weather, let alone traveling outside the southeast.

Then there is the misconception that Meyer is constantly politicking for his team to be amongst the BCS championship contenders. I don't know where that rumor started(maybe it is someone holding a grudge from his days at Florida) but in my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the only thing I have really heard Meyer definitively say about the BCS is that it is a flawed system, something I think we can all agree on.

In fact, with all the distractions that have been placed in front of Urban Meyer and his team, it is quite impressive that they have once again reached the 12-0 mark. At the beginning of the season off-the-field scandals involving Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby threatened to derail the Buckeyes' season before they even played a single snap. Then an injury to Braxton Miller (and the subsequent stellar play of backup Kenny Guiton) led many to wonder whether there was a quarterback controversy in Columbus. And, as if those weren't enough, a season ending injury to safety and senior captain Christian Bryant dealt a serious blow to what was considered the Scarlet and Gray's biggest strength on defense, the secondary.

Yet here the Buckeyes are, two games away from a possible eighth national championship, and a 26 game win streak. And it is all because Meyer doesn't care what the media thinks of him. He doesn't care whether Florida State or Auburn win their respective games. And, when his Buckeyes step onto Lucas Oil Field at 8:15 p.m Saturday night, he will care even less about who is playing in the NCG (National Championship Game). Love him or hate him, you have to respect Urban Meyer, not just for the job he has done at Ohio State, but for what he has meant to college football in general.

On to Conference Championship Saturday Predictions:

17 Oklahoma at 6 Oklahoma State(Not the official Big 12 Championship, but if OSU wins they win the Big 12): Not sure how a team that got embarrassed by a now unranked West Virginia squad can be considered a top 10 team, but maybe that is a discussion for another time. The Cowboys not only ended Baylor's quest for a national title two weeks ago, but they also humbled them in the process. Plus it always seems this rivalry goes for OSU when the game is played in Stillwater. Oklahoma State 40, Oklahoma 17 

16 UCF at Southern Methodist: Many believe that George O'Leary should be the unanimous choice for coach of the year honors, due in part to his turnaround of the Knights' football program. Yet he also hasn't had to deal with the national scrutiny that an Urban Meyer or Jimbo Fisher has had. UCF 35, SMU 10

25 Texas at 9 Baylor (Baylor can win the Big 12 with a win and a loss by Oklahoma State earlier in the day): Bryce Petty announces he is returning for his senior season. A prominent University of Texas athletic booster assures the public that Mack Brown isn't going anywhere. Neither announcement actually means that the Longhorns have a legitimate shot of pulling off the upset. Baylor 42, Texas 24

5 Missouri vs. 3 Auburn (SEC Championship): The Tigers are a team of destiny this season, knocking off defending champ Alabama and Georgia on last second plays. The Tigers are also the victims of very poor timing, as an injury to starting quarterback James Franklin earlier in the season might have cost them a shot at the national title. So I'm picking the Tigers to win this one. What's that you say, both schools are the Tigers? Well, I think you knew this was coming, but this is my upset special. James Franklin delivers another stellar performance. Missouri 31, Auburn 24

7 Stanford at 11 Arizona State (Pac-12 Championship): I haven't really seen the Sun Devils play, but they seem to be rolling. I look for it to continue. ASU 17, Stanford 14

20 Duke vs 1 Florida State: Seminoles are second upset... sorry Duke, this isn't basketball. Although you will have home field advantage(the game is played in Charlotte), I think you'll need more than a raucous crowd to help you. But I do think it will be a competitive game. Florida State 34, Duke 21

2 Ohio State vs 10 Michigan State: Hard for me to pick against the Buckeyes, even if the Spartans do have the best defense in the Big Ten. No one in the conference has been able to stop Carlos Hyde. Michigan State saw the Wolverines blueprint for beating the Buckeyes, but unfortunately they don't have the players to win a shootout.  Ohio State 27, Michigan State 16


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