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.

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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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