It’s not March Madness…not even close.  But over the next few days we’re supposed to act as though the conference championship football games are the equal of the days leading up to Selection Sunday.  Even though conference winners will not be rewarded with automatic playoff berths.  And even though an Alabama loss would not knock the Crimson Tide out of the final four.  Instead we get to see another aspect of Selection Sundays gone by- watching teams finish under .500 in their league yet still get rewarded with postseason play.  Thank you, bloated bowl system that has one foot steeped in 1980’s tradition and another knee deep in ESPN programming demands.

Just as there was no 4-team playoff in 1973 when Notre Dame, Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan all went unbeaten…there’s no 8-team bracket that rewards an Oklahoma that caught fire after two early non-conference stumbles.  Sadly for a 12-0 Western Michigan there isn’t a 16-team field (as you’ll see, FCS has a 24 team bracket yet somehow survives).  Thank goodness there’s a 12-member committee to decide four spots that have largely been determined entering this weekend.

How can the logistics be worked out…you might say?  Move the conference championships to the weekend after Thanksgiving.  It helps attendance at the non-high leverage matchups (Maryland would have drawn at least 35,000 instead of 30,220 for the Rutgers game) and would put the spotlight on the key games during a busy holiday week.  Play the quarterfinals two or three weeks into December (17th this year) and have the semis plus the finals at the regular time.

AAC Championship-

Navy (9-2, 7-1 AAC) vs Temple, noon, ABC.  The Midshipmen are reportedly holding the Bowl system hostage because they play Army next week…and heaven forbid if they win the conference title and lose to the Black Knights, giving the Cotton Bowl a 10-3 team instead of an 11-2 club.  Never mind that teams back in the day would lose games after accepting bowl berths in Mid-November.  To be in consideration for Cotton, the high-octane Midshipmen (11th in FBS scoring) have to find a way to score against an Owls defense that allowed just 10 points in November.  Senior Will Worth has been the catalyst this fall…and will need to be one more time.
Midshipmen edge the Owls, 28-23.

FCS Second Round-hold on, are you saying that 24 schools can coordinate travel and play more than one game in late November-early December?  In the words of Ralph Wiggum, “Me fail English? Unpossible!”

James Madison (10-1) vs New Hampshire (8-4), 2 p.m., ESPN3.  The Dukes outdueled the Wildcats 42-39 in Durham during the regular season-despite allowing 4 fourth quarter touchdowns.  Two concerns for JMU stem from that game:  UNH held their vaunted running game under 200 yards and the Dukes’ defense coughed up 512 yards passing.  One thinks that in Harrisonburg the #1 running game will find its rhythm…and they’ll have more rest than rust after the first-round bye.

Dukes do it again, 34-24.

Richmond (9-3) at North Dakota (9-2), 6 p.m., ESPN3.  This is where the FCS Playoffs becomes cruel.  Nobody should have to go to the Dakotas for any reason other than to visit Mount Rushmore–and that’s in South Dakota.  Even though you need to go north by northwest to get there.  Kyle Lauletta threw for 315 yards in the first round win over North Carolina A&T…but how will his throws fare in windy Big Sky country?  The Fighting Hawks have won nine straight after beginning the year with one-possession losses to Stony Brook and Bowling Green;  due to a scheduling quirk Richmond is the first one-name school they will face this fall.

Home field dooms the Spiders in a 31-27 loss.

ACC Championship-

Virginia Tech (9-3, 7-1) vs Clemson (11-1, 7-1), 8 p.m., ABC.  The Tigers look to return to the playoff while the Hokies try to play the spoiler…even though I believe if they win and bounce Dabo Swinney’s team out of the Final Four they’d cost their league big $$$.  It’s easy here to say that the Tigers are ripe for upset–as their six one-possession games were a little too much for a top five team (for the record on the other one-loss teams:  Ohio St had five one-score games and Washington had two).  But since their one-point loss to Pitt, Clemson has pounded a pair of bowl eligible teams by the combined score of 91-20.  The Hokies haven’t beaten a school with a winning record since October.

Hokies come up short, 35-17.


Last Week: 4-0!  Plenty to be thankful for…

Overall: 83-33.