Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Week 9 College Football Picks: Two Losses Can Make The Playoff

When the season started, I believed we had entered into a season-long double elimination tournament where a slew of one-loss teams would battle for the national title.

espn playoff
Now, we almost certainly will see a two-loss team make the field. This isn’t a bad thing. We simply need to recalibrate our thinking.

A year ago, it appeared to most that the fourth spot in the playoff would have come down to a 12-1 Michigan State team and a 11-2 Stanford team – so the notion of a two-loss team making the playoff isn’t that absurd.

It has also been less than a decade than a two-loss team won the old two-team BCS playoff, when LSU rose from the heap in an insane 2007 season.

I bring this up because every analyst I see dissecting the college football playoff is obsessed right now with one-loss teams and sorting them out. It starts with the phrase, “If they win out…” and they play out a bunch of hypotheticals that will never, ever come into play. It’s an exercise in the absurd but I’m watching, so who’s the idiot?

Here’s my main point: It is absolutely foolish to rule out two-loss teams right now. I predicted in the preseason a two-loss Oregon would win the Pac-12 and make the playoff. It may not be Oregon but a two-loss champion of the Pac-12, Big 12 or SEC will certainly be in the discussion for the playoff.

There’s a lot of football left to be played and the landscape is changing on a weekly basis. It is why I am so annoyed the selection committee will be releasing what are essentially “mock brackets” with incomplete data. We need to let this situation play out because it thoroughly intoxicating and has injected the sport with a jolt of excitement I didn’t think it would.

Guess I am the idiot.

Overall Record: 43-45-1
Best Bet: 3-5
Upset Special: 5-2-1

By the time the 3:30 p.m. games kicked off last week, I was 0-5. I roared back for a miracle .500 week. Let’s try to get off to a better start.

EAST CAROLINA (-28) over UConn
Yes, I know, it’s bad form to pick against your team. But after flirting with respectability against Boise State, UConn has become a truly horrific football team. I should be more specific, and point out that UConn is a horrific offensive football team – they have scored 77 points all season. East Carolina scored 70 in one game.

The UConn defense has been stout but it can only do so much, especially since the UConn offense will be contributing at least one score – if not three – to East Carolina. The UConn program was torched to the ground by Paul Pasqualoni so new coach Bob Diaco is getting a deserved pass this year.

BOISE STATE (-7) over Byu
The BYU bus hasn’t just lost the wheels – the whole thing exploded into a fireball as it hurdled off a cliff. The Cougars had playoff hopes and New Year’s Day dreams until Utah State played them tough…and Taysom Hill got hurt. BYU couldn’t recover in that game, then they lost to UCF the following week in overtime and they looked like a broken football team late Saturday night in yet another loss to Nevada. It is mind-boggling to think they will be 4-4.

boise state fresno state
As for Boise State, they have righted the ship. After a bad loss to a decent Air Force team – way too many turnovers – they rebounded with solid wins at Nevada and home over Fresno State.  They have regained control of the Mountain West Mountain division (what an awful name) and should win the conference, even if they won’t play in a New Year’s Day bowl. It is shaping up, though, to be a successful year one for Bryan Harsin.

Maryland (+11) over WISCONSIN *Upset Special*
Wisconsin has beaten Bowling Green, Western Illinois, USF and Illinois. That’s it. They lost to LSU in Houston and to Northwestern in a “road” game where red was the predominant color in the stands. Melvin Gordon is a fantastic running back but is it beyond the realm of possibility that Wisconsin stinks?

As for Maryland, the loss to Ohio State towers over everything but neither of these teams are on Ohio State’s level. It is more telling that Maryland beat Iowa in a shockingly fun Big Ten game and lost on the last play to a West Virginia team that just beat up on Baylor.
Here’s the angle: Maryland is a better team than Wisconsin.

NEBRASKA (-17.5) over Rutgers
There are two great teams in the Big Ten. Nebraska is not one of them. They are a notch below Michigan State and Ohio State, but a notch above the rest. With its ridiculously soft schedule, Nebraska should be 11-1 when they meet the Michigan State/Ohio State winner in Indianapolis.

Rutgers appears to be what they were a year ago when they beat bad teams and lost to good ones. Rutgers has gotten a lot of mileage and good vibes from “signature” wins over Washington State and Michigan. Remember, Rutgers beat 0 bowl teams in 2013 and that trend could continue in 2014, even Navy looks bad.

Nebraska is superior to Rutgers. If they are a Top 20 team, they win this game by three touchdowns. I wasn’t always a believer in Nebraska but I am slowly coming around.

North Carolina (+7) over VIRGINIA
So many conflicting emotions here since I picked UNC in July to win the ACC and that has looked really stupid. Meanwhile, Virginia picked up three covers for me in September but I jumped off last week and was rewarded with a Duke cover. What to do?

We know UNC can score. Their entire premise is outscoring the opposition. It finally worked last week when it only took 48 points to subdue Georgia Tech. Virginia’s success has come from a strong defense but defense means nothing to North Carolina – they will get their points.

This is a perfect matchup for UNC because Virginia is not a good offensive team. If/when this turns into a shootout, UVA will be completely out of their element.

Mississippi State (-13.5) over KENTUCKY
I feel like CBS would prefer a do-over here.

Ole Miss (-3.5) over LSU
I can’t do it. I just can’t. I want to pick Les Miles, since he’s an evil genius and all, but I can’t. It seems too obvious. This spread should not be this low. It feels like everyone and their brother is on LSU this week.

Ole Miss proved by beating Tennessee, which could have been a letdown game, that they are a legitimate national title contender.

TENNESSEE (+17) over Alabama
It’s tough to gauge a team that has played road games at Oklahoma, Georgia and Ole Miss – yeah, they didn’t win any, but were they supposed to? It’s been a brutal schedule, with the 1-point loss to Florida looking worse by the day. The Volunteers are extremely young, having played the most freshmen in the country, and this seems to be way too much of an ask.

Yet, I can’t shake that last week’s win over Texas A&M was an aberration for Alabama. It was clearly in response to Nick Saban’s anger over the 1-point win against Arkansas. And it was pretty clear Texas A&M checked out of that game pretty early.

Tennessee will not check out at any point. I don’t think they can pull off the victory but I would be surprised if this is not a close game in the second half.

Ohio State (-13.5) over PENN STATE *Best Bet*
You think Ohio State is mad about the Virginia Tech game? Since that lost, they have scored 66, 50, 52 and 56. It is almost if they are sending a message of some sort. In the Big Ten, they’re just counting down the days to the Ohio State/Michigan State game. Everything before that is just noise. Penn State is a mediocre team and no amount of crowd support is going to change that.

I rolled with Ohio State as my Best Bet last week and they covered before halftime. This one may be wrapped up before the second quarter.

Usc (-1) over UTAH
I wrote the intro to these picks with USC in mind. USC’s last three games – UCLA, Notre Dame & a Pac-12 title game – mean that they control their own destiny in the playoff. I will say it right now that if USC wins the Pac-12 at 11-2, they will make the college football playoff and the loss to Boston College will be forgotten.

usc qbOf course, that’s a long way off. First, they have to beat Utah. Why will they? Because Utah prides itself on being tough and physical and that’s how they beat UCLA. USC is much stronger mentally than UCLA and will not wilt to Utah. USC wins and Utah suffers a tough loss to begin the toughest stretch of football in the nation (USC, at Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford & Arizona in five straight weeks).

Arizona State (-3.5) over WASHINGTON
I feel like we’re barreling toward 7-1 Arizona State playing 7-1 Notre Dame on Nov. 8 in a game the Irish desperately tried to cancel.

That’s a good way to end this column on a fairly average slate of games: Saturday, November 8 is going to be just as good, if not better, than Step Up Saturday on Oct. 4. May want to cancel your plans, since the schedule that day includes:
  • Baylor at Oklahoma
  • Alabama at LSU
  • Kansas State at TCU
  • Notre Dame at Arizona State
  • Oregon at Utah
  • Ohio State at Michigan State
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jameis Winston is the Best Player in College Football

Florida State beat Notre Dame because Jameis Winston was the best player on the field in the second half.

Though the penalty on Notre Dame’s fourth-down play that disallowed the go-ahead touchdown has dominated the headlines, the lede has been buried. Notre Dame deserves all the credit in the world for going toe-to-toe with the defending champions in their building. Everett Golson looked like a potential Heisman Trophy winner. Brian Kelly drew up the plays that have made him an annual NFL target. The lines dominated Florida State on both sides of the ball.

jameis winston nd
There was one thing Notre Dame couldn’t account for and that’s Winston, who threw only one incompletion in the second half.

On Sunday morning, I was watching College Football Final when Rece Davis declared, “Marcus Mariota is the best quarterback in college football” after Lou Holtz said Mariota “may be” the best. Apparently Rece Davis didn’t watch the Florida State/Notre Dame game.

The Jameis Winston saga has been a drain on the sport of college football for a multitude of reasons. It began last year when Winston was accused of rape, to which sportswriters started blindly defending him for reasons I have yet to figure out. It was quickly revealed that regardless of what happened between Winston and his accuser, the Tallahasse Police Department made sure the truth would never get out because they never sought to find it.

This year, Winston has been suspended one game for shouting a vulgar phrase in a student cafeteria and was not suspended despite suspicion of signing autographs for money, which got Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley sent to the sidelines.

It all adds up to a general sense of malaise and frustration with Winston, from nearly everyone who is not rooting for Florida State.

We watch sports to escape the reality of the world. Jameis Winston – in one college athlete – is everything we’re trying to escape from.

Whether it’s sexual assaults on college campuses, the absurdity of Internet memes, the entitlement of student athletes or the reasoned belief that players should get paid – Winston forces you to consider all of those as you watch the game. It’s not fair. It’s not what we want from our sports.

Yet, on Saturday night, Winston delivered a virtuoso performance that showcased why Florida State is going to stand behind their quarterback.

How can anyone think Marcus Mariota is the best quarterback in the country when Jameis Winston is now 19-0 as a starter, has won a Heisman Trophy, has won a National Title and will almost certainly lead a less-talented Florida State team than 2013 into the first college football playoff with an undefeated record?

When Johnny Football angered the sports media last year, it had to do with simple, adolescent arrogance. Then, Manziel wowed us against Alabama and all was forgiven. He then became the sport’s biggest draws and one of the biggest television draws in the history of college football. Millions upon millions of people tuned in specifically to watch Johnny Football, even if Texas A&M was a fairly average team in 2013.

For Winston? America is tuning out. In fact, Saturday provided a rare glimpse into a world where people rooted for Notre Dame because they wanted to be rid of the Winston story. People found the one entity they liked less than Notre Dame. The academic scandal that Notre Dame dealt with in August seemed like small and distinguished potatoes compared to Winston’s travails over the past 12 months.

It can never be about football with Jameis Winston at Florida State and that’s a shame. It’s not a shame to Winston, since he brought it all upon himself, but a shame to everyone else. It’s a shame to the Florida State coaches, teammates and officials who have stood up for him. It’s a shame to those who love the sport and can’t fully appreciate his talents. It’s a shame to those who believe student athletes are too entitled because Winston has never been punished.

So on it goes and nothing will change between today and Winston’s next appointment-viewing game on New Year’s Day in Pasadena or New Orleans.

There is one nugget of information that we can glean from his game against Notre Dame – an NFL team will draft Jameis Winston in the first round. He is simply too good. For all the bluster about NFL teams taking him off the board, which team lacking a franchise quarterback would do that?

Florida State on Saturday night revealed that winning cures everything. Do you think any Seminole fans left Doak Campbell wondering about their school’s perception?

If you’re the Raiders, or the Titans, or the Texans, or any moribund NFL team needing an answer at the game’s most important position, can you really afford to knock Winston off your radar?

Jameis Winston is the best player in college football. Jameis Winston will be a first-round NFL Draft pick. Talent trumps everything, and we should know that by now.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Week 8 College Football Picks: Root, Root for Old Notre Dame?

We like to hate a lot more than we like to like.

nd football entrance
We see it every day. On message boards and on Twitter – the trolls get far more responses than those providing common sense. Being the object of derision trumps being the object of affection. You want people to dislike you. You want haters to hate so you can watch the money pile up, and so on and so forth.

As an admitted and recovering pro wrestling fan, I’ve learned this lesson many times over. Hulk Hogan needed an evil adversary like “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Stone Cold Steve Austin needed to overcome the heinous acts of Vince McMahon. It was good vs evil every week and those who were evil were always – I repeat, always – more interesting.

When it comes to college football, no one draws more attention than Notre Dame. Yet the beauty of Notre Dame’s hold on the general public is that they must be good.

Between the time Lou Holtz left and Brian Kelly arrived, the moments when Notre Dame mattered were few and far between. With the notable exception of the first two Charlie Weis years, there was about 15 years of emptiness. People wanted to hate Notre Dame, but if they lose every week, what’s the point?

The arrival of Brian Kelly and the 2012 undefeated run reminded us why NBC gladly forks over millions to Notre Dame and why ESPN added extra zeros to the ACC contract for only a couple games a year. Because when Notre Dame is good, people come out of the woodwork to root against them.

The 2012 season finale for Notre Dame against an unranked USC team destroyed the ratings of every other regular season game that season. It’s amazing how Notre Dame’s ratings stay nearly the same until they start winning, and then the ratings soar as college football fans remember they hate the Irish.

That’s why there will be such an interesting dynamic in play on Saturday night. Few can root for Notre Dame. Yet how many can truly root for Florida State right now, awash in more Jameis Winston controversy?

For the first time since Catholics vs. Convicts a quarter-century ago, a majority of neutral observers may actually be rooting for Notre Dame. That can’t be true, can it?

Overall Record: 37-39-1
Best Bet: 2-5
Upset Special: 4-2-1
The less said about my Best Bet picks the better. Crushed about my Upset Special last week, as Washington State came in right at the number I got. If I had made my picks a day earlier, they would’ve covered. If I had waited a day, they would’ve lost. Oh sports gambling, what a fickle fiend you are.

Virginia Tech (+1) over PITTSBURGH
Pitt hasn’t won a game in a month. They lost at home to Iowa (excusable) and Akron (inexcusable). Their last game was a road loss to Virginia.

Virginia Tech beat Ohio State in Columbus. I have no idea why Pitt is favored as they prepare to play at home in an empty Heinz Field on Thursday night.

OREGON STATE (+2) over Utah
There’s no way I’m passing up getting points for Oregon State at home. Everything points to Utah winning this game. They beat UCLA on the road. They’re ranked. They’re improving. Oregon State has played one real team in USC and got smacked around by said real team.

But this is a typical Oregon State game. They win at least one of these a year, when they are home underdogs to a ranked team and come through in a big way. I can’t shake the feeling that Utah’s win over UCLA was a lot less impressive than first thought – like UCLA might just stink.

Temple (+7.5) over HOUSTON
This is a spiteful pick for Houston playing their best game of the year by an order of magnitude to beat Memphis in Memphis. How dare you Houston!

jahad thomas
Is it possible that Temple might be good? They haven’t played anyone with a pulse except for Navy and they lost to Navy by a touchdown. Still, Temple is 4-1 and – I swear this is true – they would play in a New Year’s Day bowl game if they won out. That’s putting about 15 carts in front of the poor horse but a win over Houston would make next week’s Temple/UCF game mean a lot in the AAC race. Who wouldn’t love that?

OKLAHOMA (-7.5) over Kansas State
Two weeks ago, I went all in on Oklahoma and said there was no possible way they would lose to TCU. They lost. I’m going to double down here because Oklahoma should be the Big 12’s best team.

I watched Kansas State play Iowa State and Auburn and left thoroughly unimpressed with both performances. They should’ve lost to Iowa State and should’ve lost to Auburn by about 28 if Nick Marshall threw an accurate deep ball. I don’t think this one will close.

Baylor (-8) over WEST VIRGINIA
This game feels like such a trap/letdown game that it can’t be. If everyone is saying it’s a trap, then the effectiveness of the trap is severely diminished. West Virginia is a fascinating team that could be 5-1 or 2-4, with two wins on last second field goals and a slugfest loss to Alabama.

I could see this game playing out similar to Oklahoma’s visit to Morgantown, where the teams match scores for three quarters before the Mountaineers run out of gas. That’s when Baylor scores 3 touchdowns in 28 seconds to put things away.

DUKE (-2.5) over Virginia
Virginia has have covered every time out and have helped my win-loss record on several occasions. So why am I bailing now? I just don’t see Virginia winning at Duke. In fact, I think Duke is probably the second best team in the ACC and they will spend the rest of the year bemoaning their bad loss to Miami.

OHIO STATE (-19.5) over Rutgers *Best Bet*
If J.T. Barrett was the starter from April and got reps through spring and summer, then Ohio State would be undefeated. The Virginia Tech loss was not pretty but people were acting like the Ohio State QB was some schlub they found of the street. No, Barrett was a four-star recruit who was one of the top dual-threat QBs in his class.

jt barrett
Once Barrett figured out – and the offensive line fixed their issues – the Buckeyes have been absolutely lights out. I thought Maryland was going to give Ohio State a test and they got decimated. Rutgers deserves credit for starting 5-1 but they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet, much like they did last year en route to going 6-6.

Rutgers is not beating Ohio State in the Horseshoe. In fact, I don’t know if they ever will. This one could get ugly because the Big Ten team that will be a playoff contender is Ohio State.

ALABAMA (-11.5) over Texas A&M
This feels like a bad spot for Texas A&M. Alabama and Nick Saban are pretty obviously pissed off. They aren’t happy with anything right now. And the last time Texas A&M came to town, the Johnny Football legend took off. Everything seems to be coming together for a bad A&M beatdown. Suddenly, my diatribe about the Aggies descending back to mediocrity is making sense again.

Oklahoma State (+8.5) over TCU
I have picked games involving these teams four times and I am 0-4. That would cause a sane person to say, “You know what, maybe I’ll sit this one out.” Me? Never!

My angle? TCU is worn out from two incredible games against Oklahoma and Baylor. Frankly, they were done after three quarters against Baylor – the tank was on empty. Oklahoma State beat Kansas last week wearing pajamas as they were already looking ahead. The schedule trips up TCU more than the Cowpokes, but Oklahoma State is a solid Top 20 team that cannot be overlooked. Ask Florida State.

Nebraska (-7) over NORTHWESTERN
I don’t think Nebraska is back from irrelevance quite yet but I do know that Northwestern is bad. The fact that they beat Wisconsin will remain one of the sport’s great mysteries all year long.

Do you know Nebraska should be 8-1 by the time they play Wisconsin? The Big Ten West is so brutally bad that Nebraska may play only one ranked team all year.

LSU (-9.5) over Kentucky
I’m going to be the party pooper here. Kentucky hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record yet. It is 5-1 with 5 home wins – nice scheduling! They were losing by 14 to South Carolina with 12 minutes to go before the Gamecocks inexplicably imploded and lost in regulation. I am impressed that Kentucky is 5-1 but I am not impressed enough to think they are going to Death Valley, at night, to beat LSU.

Look, LSU may be a 7-5, 8-4 type team this year but it will still take a great team to give them fits at home at night. I don’t think Kentucky is that team, yet. I think it’s far more reasonable to see Kentucky upsetting Mississippi State at home next week.

Notre Dame (+12) over FLORIDA STATE *Upset Special*
I love Notre Dame in this spot. And no, it’s not just because I picked them to make the playoff in April. It’s just a perfect matchup. Let’s count the ways:

everett golson unc
1) The bend & don’t break defense that Notre Dame employs is perfectly suited to stop Florida State. They can get bogged down in the red zone but make up for that with big plays – see the Oklahoma State game. If ND can avoid giving up the big play, they can slow the game down.

2) The Florida State defensive line is not what it was last year. And that’s good because Notre Dame’s biggest weakness is the offensive line. Did you see what Stanford was able to do to Everett Golson? Without pressure, Golson can rip a defense apart. Florida State is vulnerable.

3) Florida State can’t run the ball. Notre Dame can stop the run. Making Florida State one-dimensional is the only way to slow them down.

4) The turnovers have to stop, right? Notre Dame has been awful with the football and still winning games. That’s a sign of a really good team that has not reached its potential yet.

5) Notre Dame has way more motivation in this game. It is essentially their moment. Ever since Alabama, they have been waiting for this game on this stage with this quarterback to prove they are an elite, national title-level program again. This is it. They’re playing with house money in a game no one thinks they have a chance in heck to win. C’mon…they make movies about these scenarios you guys.

Stanford (-3) over ARIZONA STATE
I hate this pick already. I don’t know why I insist on picking Stanford games but they seem to play big games. Stanford annihilated Arizona State twice last year. For some reason, the matchup is weighed heavily in the Cardinal’s favor. So much so that not even David Shaw can mess it up.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Week 7 College Football Picks: The Merciful End of Style Points

After a week in which everything went haywire, the resulting fallout was notable for one glorious omission – the phrase, “style points.”

oregon style points
For too long, style points had been the go-to phrase for analysts trying to decipher which two teams should play for the BCS title game. It reared its ugly head in multiple BCS controversies, whether it was Texas nudging Cal from the Rose Bowl in 2004 or Oklahoma edging Texas from the BCS Title Game in 2008. For reasons that always escaped me, we became obsessed with how many points a good team could score against a bad team – a fact that means nothing.

There are many issues that could still arise with the college football playoff. It still worries me that many have Florida State at #1 based on last year’s performance. But the discussion and debate, mercifully, is focusing on wins and losses, not margin of victory.

This shift is due to the people responsible for choosing who plays in the playoff are actually watching the games. The polls were always flawed. A coach is expected to coach his football team, not rank 25 teams. The AP Poll is flawed by forcing writers to submit ballots by early Sunday when most are covering a specific game.

The selection committee, when it comes to rankings, has one job – watch all the football. That means we can finally focus. We have seen a shift in the dynamic, as evident from the Oregon/Michigan State game. The final score obscured a tight game. Instead of Oregon getting credit for “style points” from late scores, it was accurately portrayed as a close game.

Likewise, Mississippi State only beat LSU by 5 points but anyone who saw the game witnessed LSU put up a ton of garbage points late. The Bulldogs dominated that game. The final score was almost irrelevant, secondary to the true result.

I have been skeptical about how the college football playoff will play out. So far, this is one shift that will have a profoundly positive impact on the sport.

Overall Record: 31-35
Best Bet: 2-4
Upset Special: 4-2

For the second week in a row, my Best Bet ended up being my Worst Beat. Seriously, Michigan State was up 27-3 in the fourth quarter and can’t cover a touchdown-spread? Ouch.

UCF -3.5 over Byu
This is an exceedingly tough sport for BYU. Knowing what we know now, an undefeated BYU team would have been in the playoff discussion. Instead, they lost at home to a rival for the first time since the 1970’s, got outclassed on defense, lost its star quarterback and is resigned to a fate that will not include a New Year’s Day bowl. Good luck motivating that crew.

As for UCF, the early results have been mixed to say the least but its three tough games – Penn State, Missouri and Houston – were on the road or in Ireland. They get a nice ESPN spotlight for the big first home game of the year. The crowd will be pumped and it will further motivate a UCF defense that has been really strong.

Washington State +17 over STANFORD *Upset Special*
How do I put this politely? You know what, who cares: Stanford sucks. I thought the Cardinal were being hamstrung by David Shaw. That is true to an extent, but they just do not have good players on offense this year. Kevin Hogan is an average quarterback. They don’t have a great running back. The offensive line is nowhere near past units. Beyond Ty Montgomery, who scares you? Notre Dame dominated Stanford’s offense. If not for an early Everett Golson fumble, Notre Dame shuts out Stanford for 55 minutes and the game isn’t close.

stanford notre dame 2014Stanford does have a great defense but Washington State is going to huck and chuck it all over. I would imagine Mike Leach will remind his team that Stanford eviscerated the Cougars last year in humiliating fashion.

IOWA -3 over Indiana
Is there some alternate universe where Indiana is a good football team? Yes, they beat Missouri, but that’s because Missouri played a D- game. Indiana also got blown out at home by Maryland and lost to Bowling Green.

If Iowa can’t beat Indiana at home by a field goal, Kirk Ferentz should be fired on the spot. The only reason this is not my Best Bet is because I could’ve written that same sentence prior to the Iowa State game.

Georgia -3 over MISSOURI
In July, I picked Georgia to be in the playoff. I also picked Todd Gurley to win the Heisman. There is only one thing I’ve seen so far to sway me from that and it is the bizarre reluctance to run Todd Gurley. It cost them the South Carolina game. It got them in trouble against Tennessee. You have the best player in the country, so use him.

I have no feel for Missouri, since I saw them lose to Indiana and saw them almost lose to a pretty mediocre South Carolina team. Yet, that South Carolina team beat Georgia. So it all ends up being an infinite loop of confusion. I simply do not trust Missouri to stop Todd Gurley.

I went against Auburn last week. I went against Auburn in week 1 against Arkansas. I was a fool both times. I’m not picking against Auburn for a third time. I love how Mississippi State is playing but this feels like too much to ask, in back-to-back weeks with the most pressure the football program has ever faced. I wouldn’t call myself confident in this pick, but it just feels like Auburn is the best team in the country right now.

Oregon -2 over UCLA
I have no idea what to make of this game. Both teams have terrible offensive lines. Both teams lost at home last week as heavy favorites. Both teams have Heisman-contender QBs that are one more bad game away from losing their shot. It’s desperation time for both.

Why am I going with Oregon? Because they had that Michigan State game. If they can keep Marcus Mariota upright, there is no one stopping that offense. UCLA had all kinds of problems last week with Utah’s running quarterback and Mariota is a lot better.

Please note: I flip-flopped on this game four times before settling on Oregon.

BAYLOR -8.5 over Tcu
I am going to ride against TCU for one more week. I consider it very troubling they gave up that many points to Oklahoma and have a team with an even better offense next on the schedule. It’s worth noting that Baylor has been very mediocre on the road in recent years but have been lights out at home – having won 21 of their last 22 in Waco.

This is Baylor’s coming out party as they finally play a real team after a month and a half of cupcakes. You get the feeling Baylor and Art Briles would like to make a statement. A big win here and Baylor will be firmly planted in the Top 4 until someone – anyone? – can knock them off.

ARKANSAS +10 over Alabama
I was wrong last week about Alabama. They aren’t that good. They lost to Ole Miss and Ole Miss didn’t even play well for three quarters. Alabama looked as shaky as they have looked in seven years. Even the 2010 team that underachieved was so talented that you could see them underachieving despite having future NFLers all over the place.

This Alabama team? I think they’re just average. Yeah, it’s Alabama average, which means New Year’s Day in Orlando but they will be lucky to beat Arkansas. I can only imagine the scene for calling the Hogs will be something else. Like UCF, this is their first big home game after playing at Auburn and in Arlington versus Texas A&M. Place will be live Saturday night.

memphis cincinnati football
MEMPHIS -9 over Houston *Best Bet*
Hello, easy money. Memphis is the second-best team in the AAC by a wide margin, or about the 27 points they beat Cincinnati by. That game wasn’t even that close. Memphis lost to UCLA by one score in the Rose Bowl and was tied 3-3 to now #3 Ole Miss in the fourth quarter. They are an order of magnitude better than Houston, which has lost to UTSA and couldn’t score a touchdown at home versus UCF.

Fun prediction because I like to party: Memphis will win this game by at least 21 points.

TEXAS A&M -2 over Ole Miss
I do not see how Ole Miss gets up again after last week. The win and atmosphere surrounding last week’s Alabama game may never be matched again. It was the biggest weekend in Oxford in my lifetime, even surpassing the Eli Manning years. They have to come back a week later, travel to College Station and play a pissed off Texas A&M team at night?

Let’s make no mistake: Ole Miss deserves all the credit in the world for beating Alabama, but they didn’t actually play that well. You can either look at this as a team that is #3 in the country and can improve – or a team that is punching above its weight. For one more week, I’m leaning toward the latter.

Usc -2.5 over ARIZONA
I feel stupid already for making this pick. The late night Pac-12 games have made absolutely no sense all year, so why should they start?

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The PGA Tour Wrap-Around Schedule is So Very, Very Dumb

What if I told you the new PGA Tour season begins in the second week of October? 2014“That’s stupid, who watches golf in the fall?”

“That’s stupid, didn’t the golf season just end?”

“That’s stupid, but are Tiger and Phil playing?”

The answers to your queries are no one, yes and no – and it’s very, very stupid. For reasons beyond me and that only make sense in the twisted mind of PGA Tour chief Tim Finchem, the 2014-15 PGA Tour season begins with the Open in Scottsdale.

The Open has an illustrious history, with past winners including household names such as Jonas Blixt, Bryce Molder and the immortal Troy Matterson. Wait, wait, no. This is all wrong. I must have Googled something incorrectly. There is no way the PGA Tour season is starting…

Nope, I was right. The PGA Tour season is beginning just three weeks after the last one ended. Would you even call that an offseason?

Several years ago, in a move that zero golf fans were clamoring for, the PGA Tour completely changed its schedule. Like most of the drastic moves the Tour has made in the past decade, it has gone over with the same reverence one holds for a fart in church.

It all stems from the PGA Tour’s concern that people stopped paying attention to golf after the final major of the season, the always fantastic PGA Championship. I will spoil the ending – the vast majority of sports fan still ignore golf after that tournament concludes.

For years, the PGA season ended proper with the Tour Championship in early November, some two months after the PGA Championship. Many top players essentially took the fall off, playing only a couple of tournaments, before showing up to the Tour Championship. If they showed up at all, as Tiger and Phil – the Tour’s biggest draws by several Rory McIlroy tee shots – skipped the event at times.

To fix that problem, the Tour made a new one by instituting the FedEx Cup, to wrap up the season in mid-September, carrying the momentum from the PGA Championship and hoping to snag some attention before football season took hold. That didn’t work. But it is still better than the old system, if barely.

The problem – or the problem the Tour saw – was that its “Fall Series” of tournaments were turned into minor league events, featuring guys struggling to keep their Tour cards for the following year. The Tour was still on a calendar year season and, for golf nerds, the Fall Series was incredible. I put that in italics because it must be said. Guys fighting for their livelihood was riveting television if you loved golf.

The PGA Tour, obviously, does not care about people that love golf. They make money from people who merely like golf. The golf-likers were not watching the Fall Series that the golf-lovers enjoyed. So they blew it up.

What we have now is the monstrosity of a 12-month PGA Tour wrap-around schedule that begins in October and ends in September. With the exception of silly season – the made for TV events in December – there is no break for the PGA Tour.

How stupid is this idea? Well, it has accomplished zero of the goals the PGA Tour wants and has added only headaches.

Because the season needs to start in October, they smash a whole bunch of tournaments in August and September, forcing guys to play 7 or 8 weeks in a row. I can hear you cracking, “But it’s golf.” And it is. But it’s still taxing to play two months straight in big tournaments, not even including the Ryder Cup.

Secondly, the top players are still avoiding the fall tournaments like the plague, which means TV viewers are still avoiding the fall tournaments like the plague.  Look at this player field and pick out the stars. Good luck.

The worst part is the complete and total lack of fanfare when the new season starts. I happened to be going through my Comcast guide for Thursday – curious about potential Game 5s in baseball – when I saw PGA Tour Golf listed. My first thought was, “No, that can’t be right.”

Think about the other sports – literally, every single one – and the anticipation built up before the first games. College basketball fans are so starved, they have made a spectacle out of the first practice! By the time the NFL season rolls around, football fans are practically (literally?) foaming from the mouth.

Golf fans? They haven’t even had time to digest the Ryder Cup before the new season starts, if only briefly to take its usual December break.

And here’s where I mention the really stupid part – there is more interesting golf being played elsewhere in the world during the fall. The European Tour still operates on a calendar year schedule, so its version of the FedEx Cup, the Race to Dubai, wraps up the week before Thanksgiving. There is a WGC event in China in early November. And Australia pops in with its biggest tournaments of the year.

So to recap, the PGA Tour willingly starts it season behind football, baseball and NASCAR in the States while trailing behind other golf worldwide. To pour salt on the wounds, the PGA used to be the only American sport to operate on a calendar year schedule, which meant it could actually generate interest in January as football finally winds down.

Instead, its season starts this week. I won’t be watching. Odds are, you won’t be either.

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