Week 13 College Football Picks: The Pre-Thanksgiving Blues

This used to be the biggest weekend in college football.

There were always big games played on Thanksgiving weekend, but it used to be only a select few. As the years went on, and conference championship games popped up, more and more rivalry games moved to Thanksgiving weekend.

Still, it was only five years ago that Ohio State/Michigan and other season-enders took place before Thanksgiving. But the Big Ten realized that ending its season two weeks before anyone else was hurting its bowl performances. Then the conference expanded to 12, then to 14, and almost every single rivalry game worth watching is played next week.

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That leaves us with the second-to-last regular season Saturday of the year looking positively sad. Of the Top 10 teams in the playoff rankings, only UCLA will play another ranked foe. Isn't it funny how that ranked opponent is USC?

It makes you wonder why more rivalry games don't move to this light weekend. Duke and North Carolina, one of the best rivalries in college sports if not known for football, will take the ESPN spotlight on Thursday night.

It's unfortunate that so many college teams and conferences are more than willing to toss this Saturday away – the SEC treats it as a bye week – instead of spreading out rivalry games. There is plenty of opportunity for conferences to move some of the lesser known rivalry games up a week to garner some more attention.

Of course, the beauty of college football is that this light weekend will almost certainly provide a stunning upset, maybe a last-second victory or two, and we'll forget all about #1 Alabama playing Western Carolina by the time we stuff our faces with turkey.

Overall Record: 64-70-1
Best Bet: 5-7
Upset Special: 5-6-1

Last year's 60% win rate seems like a long, long, long time ago. I have been stuck in .500 rut for the past few weeks after falling way below .500. One of these weeks, I need to hit a bunch of winners. I have three left before the bowls start so....let's hope it happens.

WEST VIRGINIA (-2) over Kansas State
This is the game we discover Kansas State is overrated. They are being propped up by a win against Oklahoma in which the Sooners did everything possible to lose the game. It’s not like Oklahoma is the Top 10 team we thought they were. Similarly, Kansas State was completely dismantled by TCU – the same team West Virginia took the wire.  If this game was in the Little Apple, I may have a different opinion.

But it’s in Morgantown and West Virginia has had a bye week to contemplate their let-down loss to Texas, when the Big 12 travel and the TCU loss conspired to render the Mountaineers useless. They will be ready Thursday night.

North Carolina (+6) over DUKE
Time for everyone to admit Duke was a bit overrated. This version is not as good as last year’s version. Their performance against Virginia Tech last week pretty much summed that up. Like Kansas State, they are being propped up by one good win (Georgia Tech) but aren’t that good.

duke football unc
There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Duke in this spot, since they have to win out for a date with Florida State in the ACC Title Game. UNC, on the other hand, feels like it’s on a roll and you know they can score. Can Duke participate in a shootout?

Unrelated: Does Georgia Tech want to win the ACC Coastal? If they beat Georgia (heck, or even play them close) and don’t make the ACC Title Game, they will play in the Orange Bowl. If they do make the ACC Title Game, they would have to beat Florida State to play in the Orange Bowl. The former seems way more doable than the latter, no?

MICHIGAN STATE (-22) over Rutgers *Best Bet*
The last two times Rutgers went on the road, they were bludgeoned into submission by Nebraska and flat-out embarrassed by Ohio State. Similar to last year, Rutgers is a team that wins the games they are supposed to and loses the games they are supposed to.

This is most definitely a game they should lose. Michigan State is still very much in play for a New Year's Six bowl and it feels like they will be making a statement in their last two games against Rutgers and Penn State. This is a “name the score” deal for the Spartans.

Minnesota (+10.5) over NEBRASKA *Upset Special*
This is just a stupid line. Nebraska gave up 4,008 yards to Melvin Gordon last week. Minnesota's David Cobb has already rushed for 1,300+ yards. That feels like a recipe for disaster.

As I said last week, Nebraska is not a very good football team this year and I have zero idea why they are ranked instead of an undefeated Marshall. Minnesota gave Ohio State a pretty decent game but simply did not have the athletes to keep up with the Buckeyes. Luckily for the Gophers, Nebraska does not have Ohio State's talent...or quarterback...or coach.

Smu (+28) over UCF
This may seem like a strange game to pick, especially considering SMU is winless and UCF is tied for first in the AAC. But I'm a UConn fan, so I know UCF's only conference loss came to a really, really bad team.

Other reasons I like this pick: SMU has been extremely feisty in its last two games, which shows it has not given up hope of getting a win, and UCF hasn't beaten an FBS team by four touchdowns all year, which includes some pitiful teams like Tulsa and Tulane. I wouldn't go crazy and predict an SMU upset, but this feels like a game where SMU is winning 10-7 at half and holds on for an easy cover.

FLORIDA STATE (-19) over Boston College
Florida State has a pretty obvious pattern, in terms of gambling. They cover small spreads eventually; see Louisville and Miami. They do not cover large spreads; see Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia.

In those five games, I am 4-1, missing out only on the Virginia game. So why am I going against trend here? Because Boston College was the only ACC team that gave FSU a game last year. That, combined with the Noles falling to #3, makes me think this becomes a statement game. I said that before the Virginia game and was wrong. Let’s see if I’m right this time.

ARKANSAS (+3) over Ole Miss
TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Missouri
I’m putting these two together because they’re eerily similar. The home teams have finally turned the corner after some tough losses and have young, talented rosters that seem ready to produce big wins. The road teams are playing for their playoff and SEC title hopes, respectively. The road teams also have terrible matchups to deal with.

arkansas defense lsu
For Arkansas, their Achilles heel has been great offensive teams, like Auburn and Georgia. Ole Miss, without Laquon Treadwell, is not a great offensive team. This will be another low-scoring affair and Arkansas has been great in those – beating LSU and playing the #1 and #4 teams very tight.

For Tennessee, their Achilles heel has been teams with superior talent in space, like Oklahoma, Alabama and Ole Miss with Treadwell. Missouri is not that team.

Throw in the home field advantage – not to mention both home teams playing for a long-awaited bowl berth – and it’s really dicey for the road teams.

NOTRE DAME (-4) over Louisville
Notre Dame's season is either about to run completely off the rails or end up pretty respectable. With Louisville and USC to finish, Notre Dame could beat two ranked teams to end the season, go 9-3, and probably play in Orlando against Kansas State or Oklahoma. Or, they could lose both, finish 7-5, and end up back in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Here's the deal with Notre Dame: they are simply too good to go 7-5. I know that sounds crazy for a team that lost to Northwestern, but that was the product of Brian Kelly having two of the worst brainfarts in recent coaching history. Seriously, who goes for two up 11? It made poor Doug Flutie's brain hurt as he tried to explain it.

Usc (+3.5) over UCLA
Before USC put the car in the garage, they were absolutely throttling Cal. And before that, they tore up Washington State. Let's not forget that USC should have beat Utah, but a misplaced foot on a fourth-down call gave Utah life. If that doesn't happen, USC is 8-2 and a Top 10 team. Oh, and Arizona State won on a Hail Mary, so USC should be 9-1.

Meanwhile, UCLA is 8-2 and a Top 10 team because they beat the Arizona schools. However, they have been less than impressive against every non-Arizona school. I'm not sold on UCLA at all.

While everyone is discussing UCLA as controlling the Pac-12 South, USC remains very much alive in the division race. If they beat UCLA, they would only need an Arizona State loss to set up an enticing Pac-12 Title Game versus Oregon. I believe USC is better than people think and I believe UCLA is not as good as people think – makes this a no-brainer, right?

WASHINGTON (-6) over Oregon State
The line tells you everything you need to know about the relative strength of these two teams. Oregon State upset Arizona State at home in one of those wacky #Pac12AfterDark games where nothing makes sense. Earlier in the day, Washington outplayed Top 15 Arizona on the road and gagged it away late with a bad fumble.

Make no mistake: Washington is a better team than Oregon State this year. The home field advantage plus teams feeling very different – an angry Washington team and an Oregon State team ripe for a letdown – equals a Washington victory.

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