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Keeney’s Korner: Aggies left out of CFP; Texans’ miserable season comes to an end

The powers that be have spoken and Texas A&M fans are not happy about the decision that was made by the College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee to exclude them from the playoffs this season.

Many will argue that Jimbo Fisher’s team deserved one of the four CFP slots, but those went to Alabama (No. 1), Clemson (No. 2), Ohio State (No. 3) and Notre Dame (No. 4). I don’t have any problems with three of the four selections, but I do with Ohio State’s selection.

Yes, the Buckeyes did finish undefeated and won the Big 10, but they only played six games (and the Big 10 had to alter their own rules to allow OSU to play in the conference game. League officials mandated that a team must play a minimum of six games to be eligible for the league title game, but due to cancelations because of COVID-19, Ryan Dayne’s team was left with just five conference games, so league officials changed the rules just for them. Isn’t that special!).

Granted, it wasn’t Ohio State’s fault that they could not find enough healthy teams to play a six-game schedule. A&M finished 8-1 in the best conference in the country, won seven straight games and appeared to be getting better week-by-week. But their 52-24 loss at Alabama was a big negative and perhaps the committee thought a rematch with Nick Saban’s team would turn into another route.

You can’t fault the committee for giving Notre Dame one of the four CFP berths. The Fighting Irish defeated then No. 1-ranked Clemson at home and easily handled a ranked North Carolina team on the road. The one blemish on their season was their 34-10 loss in the ACC title game two weeks ago. Things won’t get any easier for Bria Kelley’s team when it faces No. 1-ranked Alabama in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Oh, by the way, the Rose Bowl won’t be played in Pasadena this year, but in Arlington at AT&T Stadium. At least some fans will be able to attend the game.

The second national semifinal will pit Clemson against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. The winners will meet on Monday, Jan. 11 in Miami in the CFP title game.

The Aggies had to settle for a trip to Miami to face Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels in the Orange Bowl.

The NFL concludes its regular season this weekend and it can’t come soon enough for the Texans. Two weeks ago, the Texans fumbled away another shot at a win over the Colts when wide receiver Keke Coutee fumbled inside the Colts’ five-yard line to prevent Houston from tying and game up and sending it to overtime. The Texans host Tennessee on Sunday at NRG Stadium in a game the Titans will probably need to win to earn either the AFC South title or a Wild Card slot, so don’t expect head coach Mike Vrabel to sit any of his star players until this one is safely tucked away in the win column.

The AFC North title could very well be up for grabs when the Browns host the Steelers. Let’s hope NBC flexes that game to Sunday Night Football because it should be a good one between two long-time rivals and this time there is a lot on the line.

Before we take a look at those games and a host of others, let’s review last week’s record. A 6-5 week brought the season record to 98-51 (66%).

Now, onto this weekend’s games, some which will be the first of 2021.

NCAA

Rose Bowl – Alabama vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame has had a very nice season, but it could come crashing down on New Year’s Day when the Fighting Irish take on undefeated and No. 1-ranked Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Alabama has speed on both sides of the ball and although the defense did give up 46 points to Florida in the SEC title game, the offense saved the day with a 52-point outburst as running back Najee Harris (1,261 yards, 24 TDs) led the way with five touchdowns (three receiving, two rushing). ‘Bama is loaded with offensive talent led by quarterback Mac Jones (3,339 yards, 32 TDs) and big-play wide receiver Devonta Smith (98 receptions, 1,511 yards, 17 TDs). ND will need a big day from quarterback Ian Book (2,601 yards, 15 TDs) and running back Kyron Williams (1,061 yards, 12 TDs). I think Alabama’s speed on both sides of the ball will be the difference maker as the Tide rolls into another CFP title game. My pick, Notre Dame 38, Notre Dame 21

Sugar Bowl – Clemson vs. Ohio State: For the second year in a row, Clemson and Ohio State will meet in the CFP semifinals, this time in the Sugar Bowl. Clemson was last year’s matchup and is a slight favorite to repeat. The Tigers looked solid in their 24-point win over Notre Dame in the ACC title game as quarterback Trevor Lawrence (2,758 yards, 22 TDs) threw two touchdown passes, one to speedy wide receiver Amari Rodgers (69 receptions, 966 yards, 7 TDs) and Dabo Swiney’s team can also run the ball effectively with tailback Travis Etienne (882 yards, 13 TDs). The Buckeyes will need a big day from quarterback Justin Fields (1,521 yards, 15 TDs), who can also make plays as a runner. In the Big 10 title game, running back Trey Sermon (675 yards, 3 TDs) saved the Buckeye’s bacon with a 331-rushing performance and two scores. OSU also has a solid back in Master Teague III (449 yards, 6 TDs). Ohio State might use Sermon and Teague to batter the Clemson front seven, chew up clock and keep Lawrence off the field. It sounds like a nice plan, but Clemson, and Lawrence, are on a mission so look for the 6-6 signal caller to be the difference maker in this one. My pick, Clemson 33, Ohio State 27

Orange Bowl – Texas A&M vs. North Carolina: This should be one of the more entertaining bowl games as the Aggies and Tar Heels meet in the Orange Bowl. Fisher’s team has been led by quarterback Kellen  Mond (2,050 yards, 19 TDs) and running back Isaiah Spiller (986 yards, 7 TDs) and a stingy defense. That defense will be tested by a NC team that has a 3,000-yard passer in Sam Howell (3,352 yards, 27 TDs) and two 1,000-yard rushers in Michael Carter (1,245 yards, 9 TDs) and Javonte Williams (1,140 yards, 19 TDs). I think A&M veteran offensive line wears down Carolina’s front seven as Spiller runs wild as the Aggies winning streak reaches eight games and A&M fans enter the offseason with visions of bigger and better things happening in College Station in 2021. My pick, Texas A&M 34, North Carolina 29

NFL

Tennessee at Houston: The Titans come calling on Sunday and will be looking to carry momentum into the post season. Titans running back Derrick Henry (1,679 yards, 15 TDs) will be looking for another 200-yard rushing performance against a weak Texans defense, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill (3,482 yards, 31 TDs) will look to continue the steady play he’s put forth in 2020. Deshaun Watson (4,134 yards, 27 TDs) will look to add to his impressive season numbers and he should be able to make some plays against a suspect Tennessee defense. The Texans are ready for this season to be over and for the front office to begin the search for a new general manager and head coach. Look for Henry to have another big day inside NRG Stadium as the Titans roll into the playoffs. My pick, Tennessee 33, Houston 17

Miami at Buffalo: This game will probably be more important for the Dolphins than it will be for the Bills, who wrapped up the AFC East title two weeks ago with a route of the Broncos in Denver. While the Bills were clinching the division on the road, the Dolphins brough an end to New England’s 11-year playoff run with a 22-12 win in Miami. Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa (1,549 yards, 9 TDs) will get his first taste of playing in cold weather when he faces off against Josh Allen (4,000 yards, 30 passing TDs/8 rushing TDs) and wide receiver Stefon Diggs (111 receptions, 1,314 yards, 5 TDs). If Buffalo can’t improve its playoff seeding, I don’t see Allen and other key starters playing a lot. Look for Miami to play its starters from start to finish as they hope to land a Wild Card slot. My pick, Miami 23, Buffalo 14

Dallas at New York Giants: What started as a season with so much hope and optimism for the Cowboys comes to an end against a Giants team that could still be in the hunt for the NFC East title. For that matter, Dallas might be as well when these two teams meet in the Meadowlands on Sunday afternoon. Two weeks ago, the Cowboys kept their faint division title hopes alive with a win at home over SF, while the Giants, the Washington Football Team and the Eagles all lost. If Dallas wins out, they finish 7-9, but would need the other three teams to lose their final two games and if Dallas and Washington both finish 7-9, Washington wins the division because they swept the Cowboys in the regular season. Dallas is playing better on defense and Andy Dalton (1,549 yards, 11 TDs) has been playing OK lately. The Giants have struggled on offense and it could be another long day for the G-Men on Sunday. My pick, Dallas 26, New York Giants 16

Green Bay at Chicago: The oldest and nastiest rivalry in the NFL takes place in Chicago on Sunday as the Packers look to lock up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, while the Bears would like to continue their hot play down the stretch. Two weeks ago, Aaron Rodgers (3,828 yards, 40 TDs) and the Packers eked out a 24-16 win at home over Carlina. After starting fast in that game, GB struggled in the second half and the Panthers made a game of it. While the Packers struggled at home, the Bears picked up a nice road win at Minnesota. Look for running back Aaron Jones (968 yards, 8 TDs) and wide receiver Davante Adams (98 receptions, 1,186 yards, 14 TDs) to have big days as the Packers finish strong and look forward to a week off before beginning their post-season push. My pick, Green Bay 31, Chicago 24

Seattle at San Francisco: This pits two teams headed in opposite directions: The Seahawks are playoff bound, while the defending NFC Champions will begin looking to 2021 and a return of key players such as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle. Seattle has been getting it done with quarterback Russell Wilson (3,806 yards, 37 TDs) who should pass for more than 4,000 yards this season. Two weeks ago, Seattle won a hard-fought 20-15 decision at Washington which put them in first place in the NFC West thanks to the Rams embarrassing home loss to the then winless Jets. Look for another solid effort from Seattle as they look to improve their seeding in the NFC playoffs. My pick, Seattle 33, San Francisco 17

Arizona at Los Angeles Rams: Speaking of the Rams, can anyone explain how a team that was leading its division could lose at home to the Jets, a team that had not won a game all year. And to make matters worse, the Rams fell behind 23-10 before rallying, but it was too little and too late. LA QB Jared Goff (3,509 yards, 18 TDs) still makes way too many mistakes and he must do a better job of protecting the football. Two weeks ago, Arizona won a thriller at home, outscoring Philadelphia 33-26. Quarterback Kyler Murray (3,231 yards, 23 passing TDs/10 rushing TDs) and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (94 receptions, 1,155 yards, 5 TDs) (did you see the amazing touchdown catch he made in the Philly game?) will be facing a ticked off LA defense and that’s never a good thing. I think the Rams right the ship in this one, but it might not be enough to wrest the division title away from the Seahawks. Let’s hope the Cardinals find a way into the playoffs because it will be fun to watch Murray and Hopkins in the post season. My pick, Los Angeles Rams 31, Arizona 30

Pittsburgh at Cleveland: What has happened to the Steelers? After winning their first 11 games, the Steelers dropped three straight (one to Cincinnati!) heading into last Sunday’s home game against a very good Colts team. They close out the regular season on Sunday (let’s hope the NFL flexes this one to Sunday Night Football) to face a hot Browns team in Cleveland. The AFC North could very well be up for grabs in what could be the final game of the 2020 season. Two weeks ago, Ben Rothlisberger (3,462 yards, 30 TDs) and the offense struggled against a fired-up Bengals defense. The Steelers are struggling in the running game, which means the play action passing game isn’t fooling any defense, not even the lowly Bengals. Big Ben did enter the 60,000-yard passing club, joining Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Dan Marino in that exclusive club. While I’m sure Ben is proud of that accomplishment, he’s more interested in winning and he will have his hands full against a very good Browns defense that is led by defensive end Myles Garrett. Cleveland is pretty good on offense as well as quarterback Baker Mayfield (3,082 yards, 25 TDs) and running back Nick Chubb (931 yards, 10 TDs) give head coach Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski has gotten Mayfiield to play within himself and take his shots when they are open. Two weeks ago in their 20-6 win on the road against the Giants, Mayfield threw two touchdown passes and 27-32 for 297 yards. There won’t be a lot of Browns fans in attendance, but the ones that will be allowed in will be vocal. Look for the Browns to put forth their best effort of the season as they enter the playoffs riding a ton of momentum. My pick, Cleveland 26, Pittsburgh 23