Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Week 11 College Football Picks: Best Thursday Night Ever

When you settle in on Thursday night for what undoubtedly will be the greatest Thursday Night in the history of regular season college football, take a moment and say thank you. Not to me, though you can if you want. But to our television overlords. And Alabama.

Roughly a year ago, when the schedules for the major conferences were announced, Saturday, November 9, seemed to have two “Game of the Century of the Year” candidates in LSU/Alabama and Stanford/Oregon. Not to mention that Baylor/Oklahoma was also slated for Saturday.

stanford oregon espn
Though Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel incorrectly attributed the Thursday move of Stanford/Oregon to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, it was actually the work of ESPN. Why would they do that? ESPN wanted no part of going against the Alabama juggernaut. Why waste the Pac-12’s best game against an LSU/Alabama game it could not possibly beat.

As for Baylor/Oklahoma, its move was TV-driven but less overtly – the Big 12 needed to fulfill a new TV contract requirement that called for five games to be played on weeknights. At the time of the announcement, none of the five jumped out as eye-popping, must-see extravaganzas. Sometimes, fate has to play a role.

So on Thursday night, there will be two Top 10 games on your television – thankfully spread out, with the Big 12 game on Fox Sports 1 kicking off at 7:30 ET, while the Pac-12 on ESPN doesn’t get started until 9 p.m.

Fans complain a lot about television. Pac-12 fans hate the early starts on weeknights and the late starts on weekends. Big Ten fans want primetime games but only selectively. Big 12 fans hate that everything is geared toward Texas and Oklahoma. SEC and ACC hate the six-day holds where the game time isn’t announced until the previous Sunday. And fans of the American, well, they hate ESPN.

But there is more college football on television than anyone with a sane mind could have imagined 10 years ago. When I was in college – and yes I’m aging myself – being in DC meant being cursed by getting the regional ACC game on ABC and the Big East game on CBS. The  SEC and Pac-12 existed mostly in highlight form.

Today, the world is much better. DC now means access to the syndicated ACC, SEC, Big 12 and American TV packages, in addition to the Big Ten Network, ESPNU and Fox Sports 1 – yeah, no Pac-12 Network, but life isn’t always perfect.

TV giveth, TV taketh away.

On Friday night, my Dad and my friends will freeze their asses off – for at least a half – as UConn struggles with Louisville for a game that kicks off at 8:30 p.m. with temperatures forecast to be below freezing. No, I’m not making the 6-hour drive up for that one.

On Thursday night, a nation of college football fans will sink into their favorite recliner, prepare their favorite foods – are we going wings or Chinese? – and get ready to watch a season unfold.

NFL? What NFL?

Oh crap, RG3 is my starting fantasy quarterback. Note to self: test remote.

Picks to Date: 60-48-2
Best Bet: 4-6
Upset Special: 6-4

Oklahoma (+14.5) over BAYLOR *Upset Special*
There is no more room left on the Baylor bandwagon. From breathless features on Art Briles to love-letters written for his offense to the shocking announcement that Waco is going tarp-less on Thursday night, the Baylor football team is everyone’s favorite team right now. You would have thought the love affair could not have surpassed what we saw for RG3’s Heisman-winning season, but you would have thought wrong.

oklahoma 2013 defense
There is, of course, one small, little, insignificant matter that is going largely unnoticed – Baylor hasn’t played anyone yet. Their conference wins so far are over West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas, which is yuck. Their best win is over Buffalo, which is 7-2 but also plays in the MAC. I fully understand that Baylor has been pounding teams into submissions and it looks awesome when they put up 70 on a terrible team. But based on results, we have no idea if Baylor is the #5 team in the country or the #25 team.

On the other hand, we know that Oklahoma is pretty good. They beat Notre Dame on the road. They beat Texas Tech. They did stink up the joint against a highly-motivated Texas. Wait, what? Still, Oklahoma feels like a Top 15 team.

Even before I saw the spread, I knew I was going to pick Oklahoma. The fact that I’m getting an absurd two touchdowns to play with is the result of overwhelming praise being heaped on Baylor and the casual gambler buying in – no one would take Oklahoma if they were getting fewer points.

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. Oklahoma has a good defense. It’s not of 2000-vintage but it will be the best Baylor has seen. And I can’t get the notion of Baylor struggling for 3 quarters against a Kansas State team that got manhandled by North Dakota State. I want to, but I can’t.

Baylor, and Art Briles, have never played a game with so much pressure. They were the upstarts in 2011 when they beat Oklahoma. They were the huge underdogs when they knocked off Kansas State in 2012. They were “the other team” in last year’s Holiday Bowl.

This is different. I’m not ready to buy Baylor. And I’m certainly not buying them giving 14 points to Bob Stoops and Oklahoma.

Oregon (-10) over STANFORD
As with the above game, I was picking Oregon no matter what the spread was – the only one they haven’t covered was Washington State and they still won that game by 24 points. Against UCLA, they seemed to struggle for about three quarters before obliterating the Bruins right off the field and easily dispatching them (and covering) by a 42-14 final.

Stanford looked like world-beaters in late September, when they did their own obliterating of a good opponent in Arizona State. Since then, though, the Cardinal have looked shockingly mortal. They were lucky to beat Washington. They had to fend off a spirited Oregon State team that got blown out by USC. Their win over UCLA could politely be described as “not pretty.” And they lost to Utah.

For some reason, Stanford still seems to occupy a very high position among the minds of voters and fans. No one bats an eye that they are the top-ranked, one-loss team despite the loss to Utah. They do have a nice group of quality wins but, other than the Arizona State game, they lack the signature, “Wow!” moment that the other teams in the top 10 have.

The last time Oregon visited the Farm, they danced all over Stanford. I think it’s going to happen again.

As we saw in the Washington game, the Stanford defense is not the overpowering, unstoppable juggernaut it was a year ago. They can give up yards. They can give up points. They are beatable. That’s a problem this week.

MINNESOTA (-2) over Penn State
I love Minnesota this year and it’s because of one play – my favorite play of the year so far.

Late against Nebraska, the Golden Gophers were up 27-23. Nebraska had just called its second timeout with 2:19 remaining to set up a 2nd & 12 from Nebraska’s 24-yard line. Minnesota had been running the ball effectively all game long. Many other teams – such as “scared to win, deserved to lose” Northwestern last week against Nebraska – play it conservative. They run into a 10-man front, get stopped for no yards and hope like heck their defense can hold on.

Minnesota doesn’t operate like that. They ran a play-action to a tight end that didn’t have a defender within 10 yards of him. It was an easy pitch and catch. The play gained 20 yards. Minnesota had a first and goal. Nebraska had to burn its final timeout. The game was over.

Now, that is how you win a football game!

Minnesota backed it up with a thrilling 42-39 win over Indiana that no watched – thanks Big Ten Network. Minnesota is now 7-2 and very much alive in its division race, though it’ll need some help. They pound the ball. They make big plays. They play with passion. I love Minnesota.

This isn’t to say I don’t like how Penn State is playing (I don’t love how I don’t write sometimes), but they just aren’t as good as Minnesota – and isn’t that a weird thing to type? Penn State is a gritty, determined team that has won two games, against Michigan and Illinois, that it had no business winning. Christian Hackenberg is the real deal and Bill O’Brien deserves a ton of credit.

I just don’t see them derailing Minnesota at this point.

TEXAS TECH (-2.5) over Kansas State
I’ve had my fun picking against Texas Tech the last two weeks. It’s time to move on. They are a solid 8-win football team and solid 8-win football teams win home games against 6-win football teams. If this game were in Manhattan, I may have wavered. You do have to be concerned that Texas Tech may be emotionally and physically spent from two straight tough weeks against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but I sense that the home crowd will pick them up.

Auburn (-7.5) over TENNESSEE
Last week, I said I did not believe in Auburn. Last week, I said I did believe in Tennessee. I was wrong on both accounts. And badly. Time to make amends.

It’s worth noting that Tennessee has to be playing the toughest schedule in the history college football. Tennessee has played road games at the #1, #2 and #8 teams in the country. They’ve hosted Georgia, South Carolina and now Auburn. That’s 6 insanely hard games, not to mention the road trip to Florida. Even with a cupcake in Kentucky looming, they still need to beat an improving and fired up Vanderbilt team to get to 6 wins.

If Butch Jones can get the Vols to a bowl game, he seriously deserves “Coach of the Year” consideration. He shouldn’t win unless they go 7-5, but he deserves a look at 6-6.

Nebraska (+7) over MICHIGAN
Zuh? That was my reaction to seeing this line, which is almost a sure-fire bet that Vegas has me and I’m about to make a terrible mistake.

But like last week, I am going against Michigan because my eyes rarely lie. I saw Michigan in person. I saw them struggle with a terrible UConn team. Yes, the closest UConn came to winning a game this year was against Michigan. That’s, uh, not good.

Meanwhile, Nebraska is not only riding high after last week’s miracle Hail Mary win, they saved their season. The goal at Nebraska from Day 1 was to play in the Rose Bowl. Maybe they had faint dreams of a national title, but that was the publicly stated and agreed upon goal. Thanks to last week, they control their own destiny. They have to win out, including wins over both Michigan schools, and then somehow find a way to beat Ohio State in the title game. I’m not going to say it’s going to happen, I’m just saying it’s possible.

That kind of clarity – “You control your own destiny” – can be intoxicating to a football team. Especially as it goes on the road to play a team it’s better than.

Byu (+7.5) over WISCONSIN
I don’t think I’ve picked a Wisconsin game right all year. Took them against Arizona State, they failed me. Picked against them last week, they vexed me. Maybe I’ll figure them out. Maybe I’ll learn. Likely I won’t.

My pick is based on the fact that I think BYU is a really, really good football team that must wake up every day screaming in horror that they lost to Virginia. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN!?! If not for that loss, BYU would be 7-1, ranked in the top 20 and likely controlling its destiny for a BCS berth with road trips to Wisconsin and Notre Dame still on tap.

Wisconsin, according to many, may be controlling its own destiny for a BCS berth in either the Orange or Sugar Bowls, due in large part to the fact that no more than 2 SEC teams can make those games for one more year. I’m still buying Wisconsin, who still hasn’t beaten a decent team yet this year. I will change tune if they get by BYU. But I don’t think they will, due in large part to the fact that I don’t think they will take BYU seriously enough.

Texas (-6.5) over WEST VIRGINIA *Best Bet*
Here’s a spoiler alert: Texas is good. They got blown out by a BYU team that was also really, really good. The loss to Ole Miss was a hangover – an inexcusable hangover, but things happen. When Texas escaped against Iowa State, it’s like the light bulb went off and no one deserves more credit than Mack Brown. After the Ole Miss loss, he immediately turned the focus to the Big 12 chase. After the Iowa State win, he said that no wins are bad and credited his team, while everyone else in the world wanted to see him get fired.

The expected Oklahoma beatdown never came and Texas has been humming along against the bottom half of the Big 12. West Virginia is firmly lodged in that bottom half, playing at home or not, they aren’t beating Texas this year. Texas is ultra-focused and they see the Fiesta Bowl off in the distance looming as an actual possibility right now. You think they’re getting tripped up by a terrible West Virginia team?

If Texas pulls this out, finishes 10-2 and goes to the Fiesta Bowl, wouldn’t Mack Brown deserve the Big 12 Coach of the Year Award? I’m rooting for Mack Brown if only to stick it to all of those ungrateful Texas fans that wanted to run out their only National Championship-winning coach in the last 40 years.

UCF (-10) over Houston
I wanted to get on the Houston bandwagon. I really did. They battled with BYU is the most oddest – most oddest? – game of the year. But then I watched them play against USF. Ugh. The less said the better.

UCF could basically lock up the American’s BCS berth with a win, at home, under the light, on ESPN2. You think they’ll be motivated? UCF finishes with Temple, Rutgers, USF and SMU – Rutgers is the only team of the bunch likely to go to a bowl game and they lost by 5 touchdowns at home to Houston.

Everything UCF has ever worked for is right in front of them. I foresee a monster effort Saturday night. Also, Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson will be the two best players on the field, so that helps.

Notre Dame (-5) over PITTSBURGH
Screw it. I’m going to keep picking Notre Dame because they should beat a mediocre Pitt team by more than 5 points.

By the way, I love that ESPN made this the national ABC primetime game. True, they didn’t have many other options, but it just hammers home the power of the Notre Dame brand. The only game that could possibly rate anything more than a test pattern rating against Alabama is Notre Dame because Domers like my uncle, my dad, my cousin and pretty much everyone on my Irish-side of the family will be watching. God bless America or something.

les miles and nick saban
Lsu (+12.5) over ALABAMA
The last two years, Alabama has lost a home game in November and won the National Title. It’s absurd to think about it. But it’s happened.

While Alabama has been dominating overmatched opponents for about two months since dispatching Johnny Football, LSU has been having a strange season. They whooped Auburn and no one cared, when they should’ve cared a lot. They whooped Florida and people cared a lot, when no one should’ve cared. They played maybe the most exciting game of the year in a loss to Georgia. They played maybe the most puzzling game of the year in a loss to Ole Miss.

What LSU team shows up? Is it the team who showed up against Mississippi State? Or is it the team that finished against Mississippi State? Do we get good Zach Mettenberger who looks like an NFL first-rounder? Or do we get the evil Mettenberger that submarined his team’s chances against Ole Miss?

Mostly, I can’t shake the fact that the last six regular season meetings have been decided by less than a touchdown. Alabama has blown out the Kentucky’s and Arkansas’ of the world for two months – I am unimpressed. Going from Arkansas to LSU in 2013 is more than a mere adjustment.

I like LSU to keep it close deep into the fourth quarter.

I like LSU to win.

There, I said it. Start the Florida State vs. Oregon hype around midnight Saturday.

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8 comments:

  1. I like LSU to keep it close deep into the fourth quarter.

    I like LSU to win.

    There, I said it. Start the Florida State vs. Oregon hype around midnight Saturday.


    LMAO - Keep dreaming

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  2. Delusional at best. LSU lost to Ole Miss. Bama beat them by 25 and left at least 21 points on the field. Get over pathetic self.......

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  3. What a phycking raytard! Another one of those self-proclaimed football experts... This coming from an AU fan.

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  4. Your logic regarding the Baylor/OU game is quite reasonable... to somebody that has not actually watched Baylor play this season. If you had, you wouldn't have made that pick. I suggest you watch them more closely.

    Baylor not only wins this game, but covers easily.

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  5. finally, someone bold and courageous enough to say they think that LSU will upset Bama. It's going to be a great game.

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  6. How'd that Baylor pick work out for ya?? And Oregon?? LOL...

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    Replies
    1. Without a doubt, the last sentence of this post is in the running for stupidest thing I've ever written.

      I did write about my failures today: http://stholeary.blogspot.com/2013/11/oh-college-football-when-will-we-ever.html

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  7. So, has Baylor still not played anyone? Is there nothing impressive to be seen in this team?

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