Thursday, November 6, 2014

Week 11 College Football Picks: The Regular Season Now Means More

Every Game Counts. The laughable BCS tagline is even funnier in retrospect.

Doesn’t it seem like two decades ago instead of two years ago that “Every Game Counts” was the de facto explanation for the lack of a college football playoff? Can you believe, before a Saturday featuring 6 Top 25 matchups, we were told a playoff would devalue the regular season?

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Playoffs are not perfect but striking the balance of an acceptable field size is so crucial. The NBA and NHL, for example, have too many teams in. MLB used to have it right, added an extra team and now the regular season is dull. The NFL has a really good mix, though it is discussing extra teams for more money.

College football, for the past 15 years, had a two-team tournament. I still believe a 16-team tournament, with advantages given to top seeds, would still work. I think we may find a 4-team tournament is too unwieldy with five power conferences. We are still in the “information gathering” stage for the playoff system.

What cannot be denied is the energy it has brought to the sport. In years past, this week’s Big 12 and Big Ten showdowns would be important but not heart-stopping. In 2014, these games all very much mean something. We have given up the sport’s legacy formed by “Game of the Century” matchups for a weekly dose of high-impact, high-intensity playoff elimination games. It has meant no off-weeks for the sport – even weekends without high-profile games are must-see television.

The playoff creates a day like Saturday, when we will learn so much. Even better, we will pay close attention to how these results take place.

When selection committee chair Jeff Long explained that Arizona State jumped Notre Dame in the rankings, he pointed out their relative performances against Stanford. In years past, that level of scrutiny would never be applied – especially by computers forbidden to take into account margin of victory.

College football has been irrevocably changed. The regular season is even more important. Who would have guessed – oh yeah, everyone did.

Overall Record: 54-56-1
Best Bet: 4-6
Upset Special: 5-4-1

My never-ending quest to hit .500 had zero progress last week, as I went 6-6. The bright spot? My Florida State best bet was an awesome late cover. If I lived in Vegas, I would have put a small fortune on that game and probably jumped off a bridge by halftime.

PURDUE (+17) over Wisconsin *Upset Special*
You probably won’t believe me, but 3-6 Purdue is one of the most improved teams in the country. They played Notre Dame tough. They should have beaten Minnesota on the road. They were down only 7 late in losses to Iowa and Michigan State. Only a head-scratching loss to Central Michigan was a “Purdue 2013” performance.

purdue goodMeanwhile, Wisconsin is coming off of two straight ass-kickings of Big Ten newbies Maryland and Rutgers. It feels like Wisconsin has righted the ship.

Yet I can’t shake the feeling that this is the game Purdue puts it all together. With Northwestern and Indiana to finish, Purdue could very easily return to a bowl if they win this one. I would hate Purdue at Camp Randall, but I love them at home.

Iowa (-1.5) over MINNESOTA
Minnesota might be 6-2 but that doesn’t mean they’re good. They’ve beaten zero teams with a winning record and lost to Illinois. I like Jerry Kill and I’ve had a soft spot for Minnesota since I played them endless in NCAA 2004 – hello Marion Barber & Laurence Maroney! – but they aren’t good.

I hate taking Iowa on the road but they came through so huge for me last week against Northwestern that I have to ride them again. Simply put, they are a much better team than Minnesota. As long as they overcome the coaching deficiency, they should win this one easy.

OKLAHOMA (-5.5) over Baylor
TEXAS (+3.5) over West Virginia
Kansas State (+6) over TCU

I’m putting these three games together because I am roughly 2-20 for Big 12 games. Okay, it may not be that bad but I can’t for the life of me figure this conference out. So we’re making these picks for the following reasons:
  • Oklahoma is the Big 12’s best team. They should have beat Kansas State.
  • Baylor’s game does not travel. They are a different team away from Waco.
  • Texas will make a bowl game this year and they have to beat West Virginia to do so.T
  • he travel for West Virginia in the conference is a lot to overcome. They are 2-6 in November the past two years.
  • TCU is emotionally spent from last week while Kansas State is fresh and rolling.

UConn (-4.5) over Army
Funny how UConn always ends up in New York City when it’s time for a revival. Last year, Kevin Ollie led UConn into Madison Square Garden to reclaim its throne as an elite college basketball program. This year, Bob Diaco – fresh off of a stunning win against UCF – leads UConn into Yankee Stadium.

UConn has been improving but I didn’t want to jinx it by writing that down. After they played Boise State close, I got excited and they proceeded to get real bad. After a win against UCF, the promise is paying off and there is again honest-to-goodness hope around the program. After the Paul Pasqualoni error, it’s hard to overstate how important that is.

Also, Army is awful again.

Notre Dame (+2.5) over ARIZONA STATE *Best Bet*
I believe Florida State is the best team in college football. I saw Notre Dame, in Tallahassee, outplay  Florida State. If not for Jameis Winston putting forth the best performance of any player all year in the second half, Notre Dame wins the game.

arizona state celebrate
I truly believe Notre Dame is one of the best four teams in the country. I thought that in April and nothing I’ve seen has changed that. Arizona State is a very, very good team. Notre Dame is a great team. It’s a slight distinction, but it means everything.

Unrelated to the pick, but this game got bumped way up in viewership when ABC placed it at 3:30 p.m., against only an Auburn/Texas A&M game that figures to get ugly. In primetime, Fox, ABC and CBS will all air Top 20 matchups. But in the afternoon, only Notre Dame/Arizona State will dominate broadcast. There’s a good chance – thanks to the market cannibalization in primetime – that this game is the week’s most-watched. And yet people still wonder if Notre Dame will stay independent…

FLORIDA STATE (-19) over Virginia
On Oct. 4, Virginia was 4-2 and looking like one of the most improved teams in the country. In the past month, they have lost three straight games and the wheels are off. If I were a gambling man, I’d put Virginia at 4-8 at the end of the season and Mike London on the unemployment line. They’re just not good enough.

Florida State is the best team in the country and if they act like it for even one quarter; they will beat Virginia by three touchdowns.

Ucla (-4.5) over WASHINGTON
Washington has scheduled themselves to 6-3. UCLA is an actual good team. There’s the analysis you come here for.

BOSTON COLLEGE (+3) over Louisville
As a UConn fan, it pains me to write the following: Boston College may be really good at football. Ugh, yuck.

Everyone sort of assumed the win over USC was an anomaly. It’s quickly looking like the loss to Pitt was the anomaly. The other losses were both of the one-score variety to a ranked Clemson and a one-loss Colorado State team that very well may end the year at 11-1. You hate to lose games like that at home but they are certainly nothing to hang your head about, especially the Colorado State loss that felt like a knee-slapper when it happened.

I wasn’t a fan of Louisville and seeing them fall apart in the second half when Florida State decided to play some football didn’t change that any. Frankly, it’s absurd they are favored in this game. They may win but this a classic pick ‘em – so thanks, Vegas, for the free field goal.

Ohio State (+3.5) over MICHIGAN STATE
Is Michigan State great? We know they’re good, but are they a great team? They’ve played two teams with a pulse this year. Both times, they completely melted in the fourth quarter. Against Oregon, they were going toe to toe with Oregon until the Ducks wiped them out. That performance seemed great until Arizona won in Autzen. Against Nebraska, they blew a 27-3 lead so completely that Nebraska had the ball and was driving at the end of the game before losing 27-22.

urban meyer dantonio
Is Ohio State great? They lost at home to what is a bad Virginia Tech team and nearly lost on the road to what is a bad Penn State team.

So why am I picking Ohio State? Because I think this game is going to be high-scoring. Because I think Michigan State is overrated. Because I think Urban Meyer has been focusing in on this game for two months. Because I think Ohio State will play loose and easy, unlike their tight and scared performance in last year’s Big Ten title game.

LSU (+6.5) over Alabama
I’m never picking against LSU at home at night. Yeah, it bit me against Mississippi State but it came through against Ole Miss. And does any team in the country have a better home slate this year than LSU? Like a steady stream of Top 10 teams showing up.

Even if Alabama does pull off the win, I could see it being similar to two years ago and they win by a field goal or something. The Alabama dynasty is teetering. Can they survive this month?

Oregon (-8) over UTAH
My angle? Utah is spent, emotionally and physically. Three weeks ago, they beat Oregon State on the road in 3OT. Two weeks ago, they beat USC in the final seconds at home. Last week, they fell to Arizona State on the road in OT. They now return home to face the Pac-12’s best team.

To recap, that’s three nail-biters, two road trips and one long month. I could see a raucous crowd keeping Utah in the game for a half – maybe even three quarters – but eventually Oregon will wear them down. It would not surprise me if this game played out like Florida State/Louisville from last Thursday.

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