Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Week 4 College Football Picks: The Insufferable Conference Debate

When the NCAA Tournament selection committee meets every March to discuss the 68-team bracket, there is one thing they never discuss – conference affiliation.

Instead, the committee members look at the quality of teams played, whether those were conference games or non-conference games. This has become especially important in recent years as unbalanced schedules have made one team's slate in a 14-team conference drastically different from another.

oregon good
Contrast that way of thinking with what we've heard through the first three weeks of the 2014 college football season. It seems like every Saturday is another referendum on a conference. It's threatening to swallow the season though it should be meaningless.

In 2013, the ACC had two elite teams in Florida State and Clemson and a whole bunch of mediocre teams. Florida State cruised through the season at 13-0 beating only two teams that ended in the final Top 25 ranking. It was arguably the easiest slate of any BCS title game participant. Florida State won the National Title because they were the best team in the country. Their conference affiliation meant nothing.

Similarly, the biggest story of 2014 so far has been the complete and total failure of Big Ten teams in the non-conference. Many have speculated that the conference is already eliminated from playoff consideration, which is particularly peculiar considering many of those same people saw Michigan State go toe-to-toe with Oregon in Autzen Stadium for three quarters.

Why should Michigan State be punished for the performance of its conference mates?

This is the first year of the college football playoff and everyone is speculating, made worse by the lack of a true definition about what the committee is going to make their decisions based on. It has had the unfortunate effect of smothering the early season.

We should be learning who is good, who is overrated and who is going to surprise. There is so much to be gleaned from these first few results. You can see the seeds of future success or the harbingers of problems to come. We know so little, yet we act like we know so much.

The result of one game tells us only about the two teams involved. Oklahoma didn't prove Big 12 superiority by dismantling Tennessee; much like Boston College's upset of USC didn't prove the ACC is better than the Pac-12. It only revealed that Oklahoma may be really good and USC may not be.

The simplest explanation is usually the most accurate.

Overall Record: 15-20
Best Bet: 1-2
Upset Special: 2-1

The less said about last week the better. I missed out on two covers (Tennessee & UConn) due to late turnovers returned for touchdowns. Absolutely brutal beats.

Auburn (-8.5) over KANSAS STATE
Auburn has covered 13 games in a row against the spread, which is the most ridiculous streak I can ever remember. Think about it: the entire existence of Las Vegas is based on preventing that. Who beats the house 13 times in a row? It's absurd to the point of comedy.

gus malzahn sweater
That's not why I'm picking Auburn. I'm picking Auburn because I saw Kansas State give up 28 first-half points to Iowa State. I know they righted the ship and pulled out the victory, but Iowa State is no Auburn. The Manhattan crowd is going to be live and amped up for an excellent Thursday night showdown, away from the cluttered Saturday night slate, but I just don't see them slowing down the Auburn offense. I don't see anyone doing that.

And no, Auburn putting up 50 on Kansas State will not prove SEC superiority, even if that will be the major takeaway we hear about on Friday.

Uconn (+2) over SOUTH FLORIDA
Just kidding. I don’t care how much I’m enthused by UConn’s first few games; you should not place money on this game. Or even make a pick for fun. It’s just not worth it.

VIRGINIA TECH (-8) over Georgia Tech
Ah, the beauty of college football in September – we know absolutely nothing. Georgia Tech went up 35-10 on Georgia Southern and looked like a triple option machine straight from Paul Johnson’s fantasies. Then they blew the lead, only to win in the final minute.

Virginia Tech looked like a potential playoff contender in smothering Ohio State, only to be badly exposed by an East Carolina team that should have won by multiple scores.

So why am I going with Virginia Tech? Because their weakness lies in the secondary and that won’t be a problem in this one.

PITTSBURGH (-6.5) over Iowa
I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the Iowa-Iowa State game last week as someone with no rooting interest. I could see the car crash coming. The Kirk Ferentz timeout at the end was just the icing – pun intended – on the cake. What a disaster.

An Iowa defensive player was on BTN Live this week and he was asked by Glen Mason, “What’s wrong with the running game?” After an audible sigh, he said, “I don’t know, man.”

Iowa is demoralized. Pitt may be decent. This could get ugly.

Maryland (+1) over SYRACUSE
I hate this pick and this line but I am going to ride Maryland one last time before giving up on them for good. Look, I said in the preseason they could be the new Texas A&M, so I am giving them one last chance. The defense was beyond atrocious last week against West Virginia but they still should have won the game and showed a ton of heart coming back from 28-6 to down.

As for Syracuse, I haven't forgotten that they needed overtime to beat FCS Villanova in week one. Yeah, sure, they beat up Central Michigan last week but Maryland is a huge step up in class for them. My gut tells me Maryland benefits from the tough game a week ago and is far more prepared for this game than the Orange.

Also, it's really weird to watch Maryland (Big Ten) play West Virginia (Big 12) and Syracuse (ACC) in back-to-back weeks. All three are now in the wrong conference.

EAST CAROLINA (-2.5) over North Carolina
In the preseason, I picked North Carolina to win the ACC. Then I watched in horror two weeks ago when San Diego State ran all over them and, if not due to one bad play late, would have defeated UNC. It is remarkable that UNC is actually ranked this week in the meaningless coaches poll. More proof that none of those voters watch the games.

ecu new years day
As for East Carolina, this caps their non-conference gauntlet and everything is there for the taking. They will return home to what should be an absolutely electric crowd. The AAC title appears to be a two-team race between them and Cincinnati. The Group of Five berth in a New Year's Day bowl should go to the AAC champion, unless Boise State beats BYU. Many projections already have ECU penciled into the Peach Bowl.

What I'm trying to say is that this is a really, really, really big game for East Carolina. They are about to be this year's UCF, using a step-up in conference as a springboard to a program-changing season. For North Carolina, this is just a game. They will play many more important ones in the next two months.

Virginia (+14) over BYU
I don't have a good football reason for this pick. Virginia looked terrible at times at home against Louisville, but was gifted great field possession and turnovers for three straight hours. BYU looked incredible at times at home against Houston, but somehow sputtered away a huge lead to make it a relatively close game. Everything points to BYU winning by four touchdowns.

But I can't leave Virginia. They are 2-0 against the spread as underdogs, including the outright win last week. I picked them both times. It would be rude to jump off now, right?

ALABAMA (-14.5) over Florida *Best Bet*
Is the line for real? The crazy thing is that the line opened at -17 and has been bet down to what you see here. What is going on? Did I miss something where 15 Alabama players got suspended? Did Tim Tebow return to Florida? I am so thoroughly confused.

Usually, this would be cause for concern as I run away screaming for a sucker line. But I rolled with Nebraska in a similar spot and celebrated the cover before the first quarter was over. So we're doubling down on absurd lines.

I watched much of the Florida/Kentucky game and Kentucky was the superior team. It took a tremendous amount of luck for Florida to even get that game to overtime, much less win it. Now they're going to stay within two touchdowns of an Alabama team that is getting grief on a daily basis despite dominating opponents?

One last reason: Alabama's opening weekend win against West Virginia looks better than it did then. I don't know how good West Virginia ends up but they are not the 4-8 team they were a year ago.

MICHIGAN (-5.5) over Utah
This is the type of game Michigan wins every year by 21 points that gets the natives all excited about the season and how they’ve turned the corner finally. It’s very possible Michigan could get to 5-1 by the time Penn State comes to town in mid-October – consider this a warning, Michigan fans.

LSU (-10) over Mississippi State
You should only pick an underdog if you can see them winning the game outright, regardless of the spread. Mississippi State has beaten LSU once (!!) since 1991 and has not done so in the 21st Century. I’m not betting against history. In fact, Mississippi State has only lost by single digits once since 2000.

Clemson (+20) over FLORIDA STATE *Upset Special*
(Please note: This was written before Winston's first-half suspension was announced. Kudos to Jimbo Fisher for doing so. Regardless of changes to the spread, as in Vegas, I got in at +20.)

Do I see Clemson winning this game Saturday night? Yes, yes I do. I’ll give you five reasons

fsu vs clemson
1) Clemson is mad. They are mad about the second-half performance against Georgia. They are mad about getting embarrassed by Florida State last year. They are mad that Jameis Winston declared Death Valley was “our house” via tweet during baseball season. Anger is awesome motivation.

2) Clemson can score points. The Florida State defense is a major concern based on the first game against Oklahoma State. That defense smothered Clemson from the opening kickoff last year. Clemson will score points.

3) Clemson’s performance against Georgia is better than you think. Do you think Dabo Swinney wishes Mike Bobo had forgotten about Todd Gurley in week one? They went toe-to-toe against a Top 10 team in their house for three quarters. Yes, they wore down but Florida State lacks the horses to do the same.

4) I believe in Dabo Swinney. I didn’t always but he won me over last year. The way his program came back from a potentially crippling Orange Bowl embarrassment in 2011 to win the game last year has me in his corner. I am also a big fan of him pumping Jameis Winston’s tires all week.

5) “Nobody believes in us!” If you don’t think Dabo says those exact words Saturday night, you’re crazy.

NEBRASKA (-7) over Miami
I think Nebraska is better than people think. I think Miami is as average as people think. The Big Ten needs to win at least one primetime game this year, right? 

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3 comments:

  1. I wouldn't pick any Big Ten teams. Ever.

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  2. Good to see you finally learned your lesson on Auburn. Cringed when you picked Ark in week 1.

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    Replies
    1. I've gone back & forth on them. Did pick them to beat Florida State in the title game, where they failed me.

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