Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Week 9 College Football Picks: Two Losses Can Make The Playoff

When the season started, I believed we had entered into a season-long double elimination tournament where a slew of one-loss teams would battle for the national title.

espn playoff
Now, we almost certainly will see a two-loss team make the field. This isn’t a bad thing. We simply need to recalibrate our thinking.

A year ago, it appeared to most that the fourth spot in the playoff would have come down to a 12-1 Michigan State team and a 11-2 Stanford team – so the notion of a two-loss team making the playoff isn’t that absurd.

It has also been less than a decade than a two-loss team won the old two-team BCS playoff, when LSU rose from the heap in an insane 2007 season.

I bring this up because every analyst I see dissecting the college football playoff is obsessed right now with one-loss teams and sorting them out. It starts with the phrase, “If they win out…” and they play out a bunch of hypotheticals that will never, ever come into play. It’s an exercise in the absurd but I’m watching, so who’s the idiot?

Here’s my main point: It is absolutely foolish to rule out two-loss teams right now. I predicted in the preseason a two-loss Oregon would win the Pac-12 and make the playoff. It may not be Oregon but a two-loss champion of the Pac-12, Big 12 or SEC will certainly be in the discussion for the playoff.

There’s a lot of football left to be played and the landscape is changing on a weekly basis. It is why I am so annoyed the selection committee will be releasing what are essentially “mock brackets” with incomplete data. We need to let this situation play out because it thoroughly intoxicating and has injected the sport with a jolt of excitement I didn’t think it would.

Guess I am the idiot.

Overall Record: 43-45-1
Best Bet: 3-5
Upset Special: 5-2-1

By the time the 3:30 p.m. games kicked off last week, I was 0-5. I roared back for a miracle .500 week. Let’s try to get off to a better start.

EAST CAROLINA (-28) over UConn
Yes, I know, it’s bad form to pick against your team. But after flirting with respectability against Boise State, UConn has become a truly horrific football team. I should be more specific, and point out that UConn is a horrific offensive football team – they have scored 77 points all season. East Carolina scored 70 in one game.

The UConn defense has been stout but it can only do so much, especially since the UConn offense will be contributing at least one score – if not three – to East Carolina. The UConn program was torched to the ground by Paul Pasqualoni so new coach Bob Diaco is getting a deserved pass this year.

BOISE STATE (-7) over Byu
The BYU bus hasn’t just lost the wheels – the whole thing exploded into a fireball as it hurdled off a cliff. The Cougars had playoff hopes and New Year’s Day dreams until Utah State played them tough…and Taysom Hill got hurt. BYU couldn’t recover in that game, then they lost to UCF the following week in overtime and they looked like a broken football team late Saturday night in yet another loss to Nevada. It is mind-boggling to think they will be 4-4.

boise state fresno state
As for Boise State, they have righted the ship. After a bad loss to a decent Air Force team – way too many turnovers – they rebounded with solid wins at Nevada and home over Fresno State.  They have regained control of the Mountain West Mountain division (what an awful name) and should win the conference, even if they won’t play in a New Year’s Day bowl. It is shaping up, though, to be a successful year one for Bryan Harsin.

Maryland (+11) over WISCONSIN *Upset Special*
Wisconsin has beaten Bowling Green, Western Illinois, USF and Illinois. That’s it. They lost to LSU in Houston and to Northwestern in a “road” game where red was the predominant color in the stands. Melvin Gordon is a fantastic running back but is it beyond the realm of possibility that Wisconsin stinks?

As for Maryland, the loss to Ohio State towers over everything but neither of these teams are on Ohio State’s level. It is more telling that Maryland beat Iowa in a shockingly fun Big Ten game and lost on the last play to a West Virginia team that just beat up on Baylor.
Here’s the angle: Maryland is a better team than Wisconsin.

NEBRASKA (-17.5) over Rutgers
There are two great teams in the Big Ten. Nebraska is not one of them. They are a notch below Michigan State and Ohio State, but a notch above the rest. With its ridiculously soft schedule, Nebraska should be 11-1 when they meet the Michigan State/Ohio State winner in Indianapolis.

Rutgers appears to be what they were a year ago when they beat bad teams and lost to good ones. Rutgers has gotten a lot of mileage and good vibes from “signature” wins over Washington State and Michigan. Remember, Rutgers beat 0 bowl teams in 2013 and that trend could continue in 2014, even Navy looks bad.

Nebraska is superior to Rutgers. If they are a Top 20 team, they win this game by three touchdowns. I wasn’t always a believer in Nebraska but I am slowly coming around.

North Carolina (+7) over VIRGINIA
So many conflicting emotions here since I picked UNC in July to win the ACC and that has looked really stupid. Meanwhile, Virginia picked up three covers for me in September but I jumped off last week and was rewarded with a Duke cover. What to do?

We know UNC can score. Their entire premise is outscoring the opposition. It finally worked last week when it only took 48 points to subdue Georgia Tech. Virginia’s success has come from a strong defense but defense means nothing to North Carolina – they will get their points.

This is a perfect matchup for UNC because Virginia is not a good offensive team. If/when this turns into a shootout, UVA will be completely out of their element.

Mississippi State (-13.5) over KENTUCKY
I feel like CBS would prefer a do-over here.

Ole Miss (-3.5) over LSU
I can’t do it. I just can’t. I want to pick Les Miles, since he’s an evil genius and all, but I can’t. It seems too obvious. This spread should not be this low. It feels like everyone and their brother is on LSU this week.

Ole Miss proved by beating Tennessee, which could have been a letdown game, that they are a legitimate national title contender.

TENNESSEE (+17) over Alabama
It’s tough to gauge a team that has played road games at Oklahoma, Georgia and Ole Miss – yeah, they didn’t win any, but were they supposed to? It’s been a brutal schedule, with the 1-point loss to Florida looking worse by the day. The Volunteers are extremely young, having played the most freshmen in the country, and this seems to be way too much of an ask.

Yet, I can’t shake that last week’s win over Texas A&M was an aberration for Alabama. It was clearly in response to Nick Saban’s anger over the 1-point win against Arkansas. And it was pretty clear Texas A&M checked out of that game pretty early.

Tennessee will not check out at any point. I don’t think they can pull off the victory but I would be surprised if this is not a close game in the second half.

Ohio State (-13.5) over PENN STATE *Best Bet*
You think Ohio State is mad about the Virginia Tech game? Since that lost, they have scored 66, 50, 52 and 56. It is almost if they are sending a message of some sort. In the Big Ten, they’re just counting down the days to the Ohio State/Michigan State game. Everything before that is just noise. Penn State is a mediocre team and no amount of crowd support is going to change that.

I rolled with Ohio State as my Best Bet last week and they covered before halftime. This one may be wrapped up before the second quarter.

Usc (-1) over UTAH
I wrote the intro to these picks with USC in mind. USC’s last three games – UCLA, Notre Dame & a Pac-12 title game – mean that they control their own destiny in the playoff. I will say it right now that if USC wins the Pac-12 at 11-2, they will make the college football playoff and the loss to Boston College will be forgotten.

usc qbOf course, that’s a long way off. First, they have to beat Utah. Why will they? Because Utah prides itself on being tough and physical and that’s how they beat UCLA. USC is much stronger mentally than UCLA and will not wilt to Utah. USC wins and Utah suffers a tough loss to begin the toughest stretch of football in the nation (USC, at Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford & Arizona in five straight weeks).

Arizona State (-3.5) over WASHINGTON
I feel like we’re barreling toward 7-1 Arizona State playing 7-1 Notre Dame on Nov. 8 in a game the Irish desperately tried to cancel.

That’s a good way to end this column on a fairly average slate of games: Saturday, November 8 is going to be just as good, if not better, than Step Up Saturday on Oct. 4. May want to cancel your plans, since the schedule that day includes:
  • Baylor at Oklahoma
  • Alabama at LSU
  • Kansas State at TCU
  • Notre Dame at Arizona State
  • Oregon at Utah
  • Ohio State at Michigan State
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