Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Week 12 College Football Picks: Who is Getting Upset?

On November 17, 2012, #1 Kansas State went on the road to play 4-5 Baylor. They lost. A presumed Kansas State/Oregon game went up in smoke.

iowa state wins 2011
On November 18, 2011, #2 Oklahoma State went on the road to play 5-4 Iowa State. They lost. A presumed Oklahoma State/LSU title game went up in smoke.


As we enter this weekend again, one that has proved so dastardly to title games in the past, the question must be asked – who is getting upset? There are five teams jockeying for position right now in the BCS title hunt. We have Florida State and Alabama as the front-runners, Stanford as the top 1-loss team and Ohio State and Baylor lurking. Those are the five. Auburn and Missouri both loom as potential 1-loss contenders due to schedule and the opportunity to defeat Alabama, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

So we have five teams. Five matchups against unranked opponents. Something has to give, right? Here’s a spoiler alert – I predict one of those top five teams will lose this weekend. No, not “they won’t cover.”

Alabama. Florida State. Baylor. Stanford. Ohio State. One of these teams is losing this weekend…

Picks to Date: 64-55-2
Best Bet: 5-6
Upset Special: 6-5

Yes, before you read any further, I went 4-7 last week. Thanks a hot start this season, my record is still comfortably over .500, but my Upset Special is on a 4-game failure streak and I picked LSU to beat Alabama last week. So you can be forgiven if you move directly to the comments and let me know how stupid I am.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (-6.5) over Ball State
The #MACtion Game of the Year and it’s a doozy, between 9-0 Northern Illinois and 9-1 Ball State led by (future UConn football coach?) Pete Lembo. If you’ve been reading me for a few weeks – and I certainly hope you have – you’ll know that I think Northern Illinois is being punished for its Orange Bowl trip last season. There’s no other legitimate reason why they are several slots behind an inferior Fresno State team.

But that is not why I’m picking Northern Illinois – there are three other reasons why. First, the homefield advantage is huge. If this game is in Muncie and the Ball State faithful is whipped into a wild frenzy, maybe I’d hedge on this. But it’s not. Secondly, the best player on the field will be NIU QB Jordan Lynch. It’s always good to go with the team with the best player – and it’s even better when that player is a record-setting, once-in-a-lifetime starter chasing perfection.

The final reason, though, is Ball State’s reliance on turnovers. They are top 10 nationally in turnovers and it should be no surprise that it has fueled its turnaround this year. Granted, it’s not the only reason but it helps inflate a team’s record and becomes troublesome in big games.

Simply put, if Northern Illinois doesn’t turn the ball over, they will win this game easily. If they do turn the ball over, they will be in trouble. This feels a lot like the UCF/Houston game from last Saturday, where UCF was the far better team but Houston – #1 nationally in turnover margin – got 2 key turnovers early, kept the game close and nearly pulled it out.

In my opinion, Lynch and NIU aren’t turning the ball over. And maybe the Huskies start getting the love they deserve.

Georgia Tech (+10.5) over CLEMSON
Is it Clemsoning time yet? Clemson has been way under the radar since Florida State ran through Death Valley and Clemson responded by sleepwalking past Maryland and drilling a miserable, terrible, awful Virginia team. What do they have in store for Thursday night?

Georgia Tech was last seen being lambasted by its own coach for its inability to run the option after three straight losses to Virginia Tech, Miami and BYU. It appeared the Yellow Jackets’ season was over, yet they preceded to quietly win three straight games while Miami has collapsed, Virginia Tech blew a game to Boston College and Duke is surprisingly good. That has 4 teams in the ACC Coastal with 2 conference losses and jockeying for position in the battle to be Florida State’s whipping boy in the ACC championship game.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Georgia Tech may have a lot more to play for than Clemson. Sure, everyone has Clemson penciled in to play in the Orange Bowl as a Florida State replacement but Clemson’s goals this year – the national title, the ACC title, etc. – are all gone. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s goal of playing for the ACC title is very much still alive.

14-team conferences and divisions can be weird. So can the option on a Thursday night. I don’t know if Georgia Tech can actually pull it off, but it’s a game in the fourth quarter.

UCLA (-2.5) over Washington
I came away from UCLA’s win over Arizona both impressed and horrified. Impressed that the Bruins took Arizona’s best shot on the road and walked away with a victory. Horrified that it took 120 yards rushing from a freshman linebacker to make it happen.

Regardless, it doesn’t matter because Washington isn’t very good. They are 6-3 but four of the wins have come against the dregs of FBS (Idaho State, Illinois, Colorado and California). Their “big” win over Boise State looks less and less impressive by the week. In their last two games against quality opponents, they gave up 45 to Oregon, 53 to Arizona State and were not competitive in either. The strong performance on the road against Stanford is increasingly looking like the outlier.

The UCLA offense has been sputtering for a few weeks but when it gets rolling, it can be nearly impossible to stop – just ask Nebraska. The Bruins will get back on track and set up a massive showdown next week against Arizona State that will likely determine who wins the Pac-12 South.

Ohio State (-32) over ILLINOIS
The first of our five title contenders – and the first that will win easily. Illinois just gave up 52 points to Indiana. Ohio State can name its score. And judging on its position in the BCS rankings, it just might. And it won’t be pretty.

Bonus prediction: Ohio State will be up by 32+ points at halftime.

unc virginia 2013
North Carolina (PK) over PITTSBURGH *Best Bet*
Pittsburgh is a horrible, horrible football team. If you watched them play Notre Dame, why? LSU/Alabama was on. Okay, so I watched it too because I’m a Notre Dame fan at heart (thanks, Dad) and it is impossible to express in words how badly Notre Dame played. Though Brian Kelly tried:

"The execution on offense was awful. Defensively we kept drives alive with a pass interference penalty, a personal foul. We weren't alert enough to get on a ball on a fumble. And we gave up an explosive play in the passing game. We didn't coach well enough. It's on everybody. In a large degree, though, the execution was very poor."

So yeah, Notre Dame played awful. And they still should have won the game! At 21-21, Notre Dame had a first and goal when Tommy Rees threw a terrible interception in the end zone in triple coverage. Pitt punted. At 21-21, Notre Dame had the ball in its own end when Tommy Rees threw a terrible interception into triple coverage. Pitt scored a touchdown. Just for shits & giggles, Rees added in an intentional grounding penalty on the last Notre Dame drive, in Pitt territory, on a 2nd and 6 – when there was no pressure!

I’m just getting mad reliving this. Point is, Pitt sucks at football this year. North Carolina did suck, but they are getting better in a hurry. Surprisingly, it was the close loss to Miami on a Thursday night – a game they totally and thoroughly dominated and should have won – that changed the tide. They have gone from 1-5 to 4-5 in a heartbeat. They finish with 2 home games after this against Old Dominion and Duke. They did not go to a bowl game last year due to probation.

UNC is winning this game. Big.

Syracuse (+39) over FLORIDA STATE
No, Florida State isn’t losing to Syracuse. But no, they aren’t going to cover.

I realize it is beyond foolish at this or any other point to be against Florida State but at this or some other point, they are going to not cover. Vegas isn’t Vegas by going 0-9 against one team. As a result, the line for this game has been inflated to a purely absurd number, especially for an improving Syracuse team, which has given up 3 points in 2 games following the bye after a head-scratching 56-0 loss to Georgia Tech.

Syracuse is playing good defense. They will momentarily slow Florida State down. Not enough to win, or keep it close, but enough to stay within 5 touchdowns.

NEBRASKA (+6.5) over Michigan State
I am so sick and tired of hearing Michigan State’s defense talked about like it’s Alabama or something. Remember when they dominated Michigan and it was all praise for the Spartans? Well, Nebraska did just about the same thing last weekend. Maybe Michigan is terrible? Of Michigan State’s 8 wins, 5 have come against teams that are legitimately and truly awful – Western Michigan, USF, Illinois, Purdue and FCS Youngstown State. The three non-terrible wins? Iowa, Michigan and Indiana. Yawn.

To be fair, the Big Ten in 2013 is a whole bunch of terrible so I can’t fault Michigan State too much for the lack of quality wins – they haven’t played anyone good but good teams, save for Ohio State, don’t exist in the conference. It’s tough to judge. So we’re going on a gut feeling.

And we’re going with momentum. There’s something to be said about a Hail Mary. But there’s more to be said about a winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter on the road against Michigan to keep your Rose Bowl hopes alive. That drive impressed me. The fact this game is in Lincoln – and I’m getting a touchdown – makes this free money*.

*Warning: not free money.

AUBURN (-4) over Georgia
Some teams I keep picking against stubbornly until it’s too late. I changed my tune on Auburn last week and was rewarded with a drubbing of Tennessee. I like when that happens.

As for Georgia, I just don’t know what to make of this team anymore. I understand the injuries piled up on offense, but that doesn’t explain the collapse against Vanderbilt. Or the near-meltdown against Florida. It may be a matter of accepting the fact that Georgia isn’t that good.

As for Auburn, it may be a matter of accepting that they are really, really good. Tennessee, at home, took South Carolina and Georgia to the limit. They didn’t make it to halftime against Auburn. Consider me impressed. This line feels about a touchdown light – why isn’t Auburn a double-digit home favorite?

BAYLOR (-27) over Texas Tech
Speaking of teams that have taught me a lesson, I was gung-ho against Baylor last week. And for a quarter, it looked like I was a genius. Then Oklahoma proved all the preseason naysayers’ right and Baylor proved all the preseason backers right. Oh yeah – that was me! Yes, I picked Baylor to win the Big 12 in July before I picked them to lose last week. I’m an idiot.

I was right on Texas Tech – their quick start was a pure mirage, built up by a Charmin-soft schedule. They were brought back to Earth by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and then Kansas State opened a can of something fierce on them last week. I don’t see how Texas Tech recovers from that, at least not this week against a Baylor team that can seriously think about not only a Fiesta Bowl berth, but a BCS Title Game appearance.

If Baylor (and Oklahoma State*) win this week, you can almost guarantee a trip from ESPN College Gameday next week for the Big 12 Game of the Year. For this week, take the points and enjoy the whipping.

*I did not pick Texas/Oklahoma State because the line is perplexing. Oklahoma State by 3? That makes no sense. When a line makes that little sense, I stay far away. Oklahoma State should win by 21. The line makes me uneasy.

Stanford (-3.5) over USC
You know what this pick means, right? And people are insane if they think this version of USC has a chance in heck of beating this version of Stanford.

nick saban jump
MISSISSIPPI STATE (+25) over Alabama *Upset Special*
Yes, I am picking Mississippi State to cover against Alabama. I am also picking Mississippi State to beat Alabama.

I made up my mind as soon as Nick Saban jumped in the air to celebrate the win over LSU. It was so uncharacteristic and, frankly, shocking. LSU beat Alabama in 2011. LSU beat Alabama in 2012 – not the game, but the emotional letdown of a week later let Johnny Football get up early and the Crimson Tide couldn’t recover.

Mississippi State showed a ton of heart last week in dueling with Texas A&M for seemingly 5 hours on Saturday afternoon. Sure, the defense couldn’t stop Johnny Football – but neither could Alabama’s. The fact they battled that hard for that long proved to me that Dan Mullen still has his team believing. There were a lot of positives to take away from that game.

On the flip side, the talk in Alabama is already about the Iron Bowl. The Tide’s spot in the BCS Title Game has already been secured, according to many, and it’s just a matter if they play Florida State or someone else.

While Alabama wore down LSU in the second half, it must not be forgotten that LSU should have been winning at halftime and was moving the ball with ease in the first half. The 38-17 final score is accurate yet deceiving – the game was closer than that.

If this game was in Bryant-Denny, I wouldn’t think twice about the upset potential. But it’s not. It’s in Starkville. There will be cowbells ringing. There will be hope and optimism.

Alabama is going to miss the opening whistle. Alabama is going to get behind. Alabama is going to panic. Alabama is going to lose this game. 

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2 comments:

  1. Great article till you said that the juggernaut Alabama Crimson Tide is going to lose to Mississippi State this weekend. That is just silly talk. Mississippi State will lose by at least 20 points this weekend. Alabama will steam roll them. Next tough game for Alabama is going to be the Iron Bowl with Auburn.

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  2. are you joking me? Bama will annihilate MSST. Bama's defense is better than A&M's defense.

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