By Micah Roberts
Against the SEC alone, they were outscored 138-45 with Michigan State getting blasted by Alabama, Michigan allowing the most points ever in their bowl history against Mississippi State and Penn State falling to Florida. Making matters look even worse for the conference was their newest member for the 2011 season, Nebraska, falling to Washington as a 14-point favorite.
So what does that say for the leader of the conference, Ohio State, as they matchup against another SEC team Tuesday night with Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl? The Buckeyes are 3 ½-point favorites, but they’re playing in the heart of SEC country and have faltered over the years when playing BCS bowls against SEC teams like LSU and Florida over the years. In fact, they have lost none straight bowls when playing SEC teams.
When looking at Arkansas’ only two losses -- to then No. 1 Alabama and current No. 1 Auburn -- and seeing how strong they closed out the season, they kind of get higher marks now on the basis of the SEC proving conference supremacy over the Big Ten. During the year, the Razorbacks put up the fourth most passing yards in the nation and averaged 37.3 point-per-game led by quarterback Ryan Mallett. On top of the potent aerial attack, they also come strong with 150 rushing yards per game with an attack that will give the Buckeyes some trouble. The only team the Buckeyes faced this year that comes close to Arkansas’ attack was Wisconsin and they lost that game 31-18.
On top of all the history and statistics, the Buckeyes also have a cloud hanging over them due to five players being suspended for the first five games next season, yet are allowed to play in this bowl game. One of the players involved, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, has had to deal with all the questions about the matter on a daily basis. How focused will he be for this game, and even if he is, will it matter? Pryor has been good in games when getting an early lead, but he has been one of the absolute worst in the country when trying to lead his team back from a deficit.
I had initially liked the Buckeyes in this match when the pairings came out and after pounding on the point that the SEC is much better, it may sound like I have changed my mind, but I haven’t. When comparing all the Big Ten bowl losses, all those teams were supposed to lose according to the ratings where they were all considerable underdogs with Wisconsin playing perhaps the best team in the Nation as 3-point underdogs. The Illinois and Iowa wins for the conference were basically pick ‘em games. I’m going to stay with the trend of following the power ratings and take the team rated higher. In this case it is Ohio State, who I initially had as 6-point favorites in my own personal ratings. On a side note, Mallett once played for Michigan as a freshman and participated in a 14-3 loss to the Buckeyes. Pick: Ohio State 37-23
Later in the week, we get to pick on another MAC team taking Middle Tennessee State who opened as a 2-point underdog, but are now minus-1 against Miami-Ohio. On Friday, I’ll be looking to bet on LSU over Texas A&M. Then on Saturday, I’ll hope that line drops more on Nevada against Boston College in a game being played in San Francisco. The Wolf pack opened as a 9 ½-point favorite but have been bet against dropping the line to minus-7 ½ at most sports books.
As for the big game between No. 2 Oregon and No. 1 Auburn on Monday, I’m kind of torn between the two and fully expect to see lots of points scored eclipsing the posted total of 74 ½. Between the two teams, they have combined to score 92.3 points-per-game and neither of the defenses have been tough to score on. On one side, you have Auburn’s huge offensive and defensive lines against the smaller Ducks, but the speed of the Oregon will be something Auburn hasn’t seen all year. Pick: Auburn 44 Oregon 39
Seven teams still remain unbeaten heading into this week led by No. 1 Duke. Because the ACC looks to be weaker compared to years past, they have the easiest chance to run the table. Duke was the only team ranked from the conference in last weeks coaches poll with only Florida State getting a single vote among the 11 other teams. In the RPI index, only North Carolina is among the top 20 teams with Duke rated 13th because of a poor strength of schedule rating, ranked 131st. Next Wednesday Duke travels to Tallahassee for a date against the Seminoles which could give them a scare. However, the once tough tobacco road jaunts are no longer a feared gauntlet. Following the Florida State game, Duke plays only two non-conference opponents, at St. John’s and a visit from Temple.
No. 3 Kansas has the top RPI rating and will have a tough time staying undefeated during conference play on the road as the Big-12 has five other teams ranked. No. 2 Ohio State has five other teams ranked in the Big Ten while No. 4 Syracuse has six other ranked teams to face in the Big East, the toughest conference nightly in basketball. One of the Big East teams not even ranked is still undefeated with Cincinnati, although they have played a very weak non-conference schedule heading into Big East play this week.
No. 6 San Diego State begins conference play this week and then get their first test next week when they host UNLV (12-2) followed by a road date at the always tough “Pit” at New Mexico (11-3).
UNLV tips off it’s conference play against No. 16 BYU (14-1) at the Thomas & Mack center Wednesday night in a game that will be BYU’s last visit to Las Vegas as a Mountain West member. It should be a rocking atmosphere and give further insight to just how good UNLV is at this juncture. The task at hand for them will be trying to control Senior guard Jimmer Fredette who is sizzling hot right now averaging 24 points-per-game on the season and 28 ppg in December.
When looking at the RPI conference ratings, it’s interesting to see the MWC as the fifth rated conference ahead of the Atlantic-10, PAC-10, Conf-USA and SEC.
The game of the week features No. 8 Connecticut at No. 13 Texas in the one of only two games this week that feature two ranked teams playing each other. The Long Horns have won five straight games after a December 5 meltdown at USC led by the play of sophomore Jordan Hamilton who has averaged 19.8 ppg and 7.2 rebounds-per-game. While Hamilton leads the team in scoring, his high total for rebounds is only third best on the team, a team that is third in the nation with 43 boards per game.
They’ll matchup against a team almost as greedy on the boards as them in Connecticut who is fifth in the nation. After losing their final four games of last season and relegated to playing in the NIT, the Huskies have stormed back this year as one of the biggest surprises of the season led by Junior guard Kemba Walker who leads the nation in scoring with 26.7 ppg. Both teams each lost to Pittsburgh and beat Michigan State this year as common opponents. Look for the home court edge to give Texas a boost in this one with a five point win.