Championship Saturday College Football Picks: Who Knows?

Nick Saban was scared.

And if that phrase doesn’t sum up the unpredictable nature of college football in 2013, what else could?

Nick Saban was scared of going to overtime with Auburn.

iron bowl tying touchdown
Lost in the finish of the Iron Bowl is how we got there. Nick Saban did something completely and totally out of character by attempting that field goal on the final play. It had a very minute chance of success – as do all 57-yard field goals, regardless if that kicker is Blair Walsh or a redshirt freshman. But Saban tried it because he wanted to avoid overtime.

The last play of the game was the biggest. But the most important was the touchdown about 40 seconds earlier in game time that tied the game.

On that play, Auburn QB Nick Marshall went left to run the option and then, just before he was to cross the line of scrimmage, pass to a wide open receiver who waltzed into the endzone.

It is impossible to overstate how stunning that was – maybe even more stunning than the final play. Alabama was up 7 with 40 seconds to go and Auburn needed to go 40 yards. Wouldn’t you have felt really good as an Alabama fan that their defense would hold?

Instead, not only did they fail to stop Auburn – they gave up a really, really easy touchdown. The guy walked in! When’s the last time Alabama gave up a touchdown to guy that wide open at any point in the game?

On CBS, Gary Danielson said that you couldn’t blame the Alabama defender for jumping up on Marshall. Hmm, I feel like Nick Saban would disagree with that. In that moment, he knew that his defense was lost. The genius of Gus Malzahn – which at this point cannot be understated either – was on full display and he had the Alabama defense fooled.

In the Michigan/Ohio State game, Brady Hoke readily admitted that he went for 2 instead of playing for overtime because he knew his defense wasn’t going to stop Ohio State. Michigan is a five-loss team that had played its heart out to even be in that situation. Every Michigan fan likely agreed with the call, even if it meant admitting Ohio State was the far better team. It happens. They played to win.

But Alabama was 11-0 and the #1, two-time defending national champions. Nick Saban can’t admit that he was scared. He cannot share that he thought a longshot field goal was a better chance of winning that game than overtime.

That’s the 2013 college football season in a nutshell – everything you thought you knew about the sport has been rendered meaningless.

We’re going to spend the next few days arguing about Auburn or Ohio State for #2. Is there any doubt that debate will be moot by Sunday morning?

Picks to Date: 83-70-2
Best Bet: 6-8
Upset Special: 9-5

Time to brag: I nailed my upset pick last week of San Jose State over Fresno State. I just crushed it.

CINCINNATI (+3.5) over Louisville
So Louisville won’t lose 4 games, but it’s pretty hard to consider their season a success even at 10-1. They played quite possibly the easiest schedule you could create. They had 4 cupcakes for a non-conference schedule. Their conference road games so far have been at Temple, UConn and USF – are you kidding me? They played their two toughest games at home  – UCF and Houston – and blew a 3-score lead to the former while hanging on for dear life against the latter.

If all of that negativity wasn’t enough, they are playing for nothing. A win gets them to 11-1 and a trip to Orlando. If they lose, they may very well still end up in Orlando. Their season ended when UCF upset them and they have been sleepwalking ever since.

On the other hand, Cincinnati has been on fire the past couple of weeks and holds out slight, if remote, hopes of a BCS berth if UCF somehow loses to SMU* and they have Nippert Stadium sold out. It will be loud Thursday night. It will be rocking. And Cincinnati seems intent on sending Louisville off with a bad taste.

*There is no line currently on the UCF/SMU game because of the uncertainty around SMU QB Garrett Gilbert being able to play. If he doesn’t play, Cincinnati has zero hope of a BCS berth.

Northern Illinois (-3) over Bowling Green *Best Bet*
I’ve been rolling with NIU the last month and there is no way in heck I’m jumping off the bandwagon at this point. The line is way too small, which certainly scares me because Bowling Green looked really, really good is dismantling a more than decent Buffalo team last Friday.

Ultimately, I’m not betting against Jordan Lynch in this spot. I think we have to accept that Jameis Winston is going to win the Heisman. And that’s a shame because Jordan Lynch should. No one has done more for his team and his school than Lynch. Forget the competition – it is remarkable to watch Lynch single-handedly beat opponents. He has the two top rushing games ever for a quarterback – in history! – in the past two months.

We may see an outbreak of #MACtion but I can’t imagine this game will be anything but a coronation for Northern Illinois. And screw the ESPN haters – I want to see NIU get another shot at a BCS bowl.

Oklahoma (+9.5) over OKLAHOMA STATE
No team has vexed me more than Oklahoma this year. I thought they’d lose to Notre Dame – they did not. I thought they’d hammer Texas – they got hammered. I thought they’d stun Baylor – they got embarrassed. I thought they’d fall to Kansas State – they played possibly their best game of the year.

Why are doing this to me Bob Stoops??

So without hope, I have resorted to the easiest fallback ever – the opposite of what I think will happen. I think Oklahoma State is going to pound Oklahoma into the ground, a la the Sooners’ last visit in 2011. I think Oklahoma State could win by 50. So of course, they won’t and that’s why I’m picking Oklahoma. Ugh, let’s just move on.

Marshall (-4.5) over RICE
I picked East Carolina to beat Marshall last week. After running some errands on Black Friday, I returned to my couch to check in on the game. Marshall was already up 17-0 and proceeded to destroy East Carolina. Consider me a convert – I don’t see how Rice is going to be able to slow down the Marshall offense.

UCONN (PK) over Memphis
They did it! They did it! UConn did it! Last week, I picked UConn mostly to mock Rutgers and also because the +3 line seemed suspiciously low. Well, it turns out it wasn’t low enough – smart money flowed on UConn and the line ended at Rutgers +2. How bad is Rutgers?

While the UConn win made me feel good as a fan, it likewise depressed me. How bad of a coach was Paul Pasqualoni?? Had the players checked out before the season even started? TJ Weist won’t be UConn’s next football coach but he deserves credit for having the Huskies ready to play Saturday against Rutgers. UConn has a long rebuilding road ahead of them but ending with 3 straight victories would be nice.

Texas (+14) over BAYLOR
I haven’t been sold on Baylor all year. I picked them to lose to Oklahoma – they proved me wrong. I picked them to lose to Oklahoma State – they proved me right. So this is the rubber match.

The interesting thing about this game is the stakes. If Oklahoma State loses at noon, this becomes the Big 12 Title Game. If Oklahoma State wins, Baylor is still playing for a possible at-large BCS berth while Texas is playing for a Cotton Bowl.

Here’s what I think could happen – Oklahoma pulls the upset and Texas takes the field like a bunch of crazed dogs because their BCS hopes have been reignited. They blow the doors off of Baylor in the first half, then hang on for dear life in the fourth quarter as Mack Brown wins the Big 12 and Texas fans now have to deal with the fact they want to fire their coach before the Fiesta Bowl!

Also, I’m not getting a good vibe from the Baylor program right now. The loss to Oklahoma State was bad. The performance last week against a bad TCU team may have been even worse. And then Art Briles got called out by Gary Patterson for, essentially, sending out a thug to hurt people. This is not the feel-good Baylor story of two weeks ago.

Auburn (-2) over Missouri
If I were a betting man, I would stay a billion miles away from this game. I still don’t know what to make of either team. Auburn should’ve lost at home the last two games. Instead, they are a potential national champion. Missouri looks like the real deal – squashing Ole Miss and Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks with the enormous pressure of having to win out to make it to Atlanta.

I want to pick Missouri. I think Missouri is the better team with better players.

Yet, I can’t get the Auburn touchdown to tie the game up at 28 out of my head. Gus Malzahn was able to exploit the weakness in a seemingly impenetrable Alabama defense. Why couldn’t he do that to Missouri? And if destiny is a thing, Auburn can’t lose this game right?

duke acc footballHere’s my only logical reason for picking Auburn – I don’t think Missouri’s defensive line will stop the run. They have a great line that is incredible at rushing the passer. But Texas A&M was able to gash them for big running plays time and again. Sure, Auburn doesn’t have the Johnny Football passing threat but Missouri is prone to over-pursuing. And that’s something Gus Malzahn’s offense can exploit for 3+ hours.

Stanford (+3) over ARIZONA STATE
The last time these two teams played, Stanford absolutely wiped the floor with Arizona State. It wasn’t even a contest – like Arizona State was made to look like a 6-6 New Mexico Bowl-bound team. So either Arizona State has righted the ship and will be out for revenge or Stanford’s physicality and run game is simply too much for this version of the Sun Devils.

I’m going with the latter. And I’ll gladly take those free 3 points.

Duke (+29) over Florida State *Upset Special*
Okay, yeah, wow, oh boy….I’m going on a ledge here, to say the least. But I think Duke is going to beat Florida State. Here are my reasons. Please note, these are not necessarily good reasons, just the reasons I came up with.

1)      It’s a home game for Duke in Charlotte. If this were a true neutral site game or, heaven forbid, in Tallahassee, I would not be making this pick. But it’s basically going to be 60,000 Duke fans going crazy for the biggest game in school history.

2)      The best aspect of David Cutcliffe’s coaching job is how he has gotten his players to buy in. He said that Duke players used to want games to end if they were winning – Cutcliffe told them they should never want the game to end because they’ll never lose. WOW! Sign me up to play for this guy.

3)      The last team to give Florida State a game was Northern Illinois. How did NIU do it? By playing scrappy and ugly. NIU was overmatched but they weren’t giving FSU an inch. Teams like Syracuse, Wake Forest and (gulp) even Clemson crapped themselves as soon as Florida State got rolling. Duke is not going down without a fight.

4)      What happens in a close game? FSU hasn’t played one yet. What happens if it’s, say, 17-10 at halftime? How will FSU finally respond to its first dose of pressure?

5)      The cloud of uncertainty has to be affecting Jameis Winston, right?

6)      Duke is way better than people think.

7)      29 points is an insult to Duke and you’re crazy to think Cutcliffe hasn’t let his players know about that.

8)      “Nobody believes in us!”

9)      UCLA over USC in 2006. Pitt over West Virginia in 2007. Nebraska (almost) over Texas in 2009. We’re due.

Ohio State (-5.5) over Michigan State
Michigan played their A+++ game against Ohio State at home and it wasn’t good enough.
Michigan State couldn’t beat Notre Dame. You’re asking me to believe they’re going to play with Ohio State?

Please. Ohio State is the best team in the country and no one wants to believe that because they play in the Big Ten. The best analogy I can make for Ohio State are the 1990s Florida State teams that played in a dreadful ACC. The only problem is that Ohio State this year didn’t have a vintage Florida team in the nonconference to validate their season.

Ohio State is going to run all over Michigan State and we can get ready for a December spent picking apart Ohio State because the Big Ten sucks this year. It’s not Ohio State’s fault the conference is terrible.

FRESNO STATE (-3) over Utah State
It will take a lot for Fresno to bounce back from last week’s disappointment against San Jose State but they will. They are too good and the homefield advantage will help.

I do have to give a huge tip of the hat to Utah State head coach Matt Wells, who replaced the departed Gary Andersen. Blessed with an amazing QB in Chuckie Keeton, Utah State lost two heartbreakers to Pac-12 teams Utah and USC on the road. Then Keeton got hurt and it seemed like the season was lost. Instead, here they are playing for a conference title. I’ll be rooting for Utah State with my heart, but my head knows Fresno State is winning this.

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  1. Duke? Cmon man...not happening evner.

  2. "NIU was overmatched but they weren’t giving FSU an inch."
    You're right. 534 yards is way more than an inch.

  3. BC was FSU's last close game..

  4. Dean Sean, please stop what you are doing....its not legal and it certainly is not good for you....saying that Duke will FSU is beyond ludacris. I give all the credit in the world to Duke for their accomplishments, but dude...the dream ends here....this will be like an NFL team versus a college team. FSU by 5 tds.

  5. This guy is a colossal dip shit. Seriously.

  6. "Biggest game in school history"? An ACC championship game is not bigger than the 1939 & 1942 Rose Bowl, 1945 Sugar Bowl, 1955 & 1958 Orange Bowl, 1961 Cotton Bowl. Now if they happen to win and play in a BCS bowl........then you can make that claim.

  7. That Pitt v West Virginia game in the 06-07 season was crazy. The refs tried so hard to give that game to WVU, but goodness did they not want to take it.

  8. There are not 60,000 Duke football fans ANYWHERE.

  9. 60,000 screaming Duke fans? Duke barely covers half of that in a regular home game. FSU by 30+

  10. Michigan vs Michigan State: 6-29. Michigan held to a grand total of negative 68 yards rushing. Compare to Michigan vs Ohio State: 41-42.
    Northwestern vs Michigan State: 6-30. Compare to Northwestern vs Ohio State: 30-40 (and, really, the final score of that game was 30-33).
    Michigan State's defense is the #1 defense in the nation. And honestly, saying that doesn't give them enough credit. The Spartans D is one of the best of the past 10 years, for any team, in any conference. They are that good.

    Mizzou has played 48 quarters of football. 47 of those quarters have been superb. Their only bad quarter was the last quarter of the game against South Carolina (who, we should mention, is a top-10 team). Missouri has had more dominant stats on both sides of the ball against every common opponent they've played so far this year. The Auburn secondary is porous, and the average height of their defensive backs is 5'11. Missouri's *shortest* receiver is 4 inches taller than Auburn's *tallest* receiver. And on defense, Missouri's defensive line is far more mobile and quick to react to the spread-style offense Auburn runs than Alabama's defensive line was.

    Your pick with Duke is right. They're going to lose, but not by more than four touchdowns. And while I'd probably put my money with Stanford as you have here, don't be so quick to dismiss that game. ASU is not the same team now as when they played Stanford early in the year.

    Just my two cents. You've got some good picks, but on a lot of the big-title matches this weekend, it looks like you're making judgement calls based off of highlight reels and the nefarious 'eye test' instead of consulting the numbers.


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