Before we get into this week’s lines, there’s something I have to address.
Last week’s Alabama-LSU game was a thriller. LSU had the top-ranked Crimson Tide on the ropes, and it seemed like we were about to witness the most unlikely of upsets. There would be a BCS shake-up of epic proportions.
Of course, it was not to be. A.J. McCarron led the Tide on a 72-yard scoring drive in under a minute. He completed three passes to Kevin Norwood for substantial gains before dumping off a screen pass to freshman phenom T.J. Yeldon for a 28-yard game-winning touchdown.
But it wasn’t Yeldon who won the game. It wasn’t A.J. McCarron’s poise and leadership in crunch time. It wasn’t Jim McElwain’s playcalling, Bama’s tough offensive line or the grit of the entire Crimson Tide team.
It was the prevent.
Les Miles made a lot of questionable decisions in that game, but none was worse than switching to the prevent defense during that final drive. The prevent DOES NOT WORK. Not once in the history of mankind has the prevent defense been successful in stopping a team from driving down the field. It is good for one thing and one thing only: stopping a Hail Mary on the final play of a game. In any other situation, you are simply allowing the other team to slowly pick you apart.
LSU’s defense had been punishing Alabama for the entire second half. They allowed zero points and very few yards. McCarron had only one completion the entire second half prior to that game-winning drive. ONE completion! Furthermore, Alabama only needed a field goal to send the game to overtime, meaning they only really had to go 40 yards. LSU could have won that game had they just played the same style of defense they played the rest of the half. Better yet, they could have blitzed McCarron, forcing him to throw passes short of the first down marker and keep the clock running.
Instead they opted for the worst choice of all, the prevent defense. Against Tennessee A&M that might have worked, but an experienced veteran like McCarron was able to methodically pick the Tigers apart and utilize college’s generous first down rules to repeatedly stop the clock.
LSU has no one to blame but themselves for that loss. They blew the game, plain and simple. The Tigers could have defeated their arch-enemy, shaken up the BCS picture, put themselves into national title contention, and rewritten the script on the entire 2012 season.
Instead they chose the prevent defense, and the rest is history.
Something for every team to keep in mind this week. On to the picks...
Pitt / UConn UNDER 43.5
The prevent D shouldn’t come into play here, because neither of these teams can pass. I don’t know what UConn averages per game, but it has to be around 13. Pitt isn’t much better. They gave Notre Dame a good battle last week, but the fact remains the Panthers are a slow-paced team built around running and defense. This game has 20-10 and at least one scoreless quarter written all over it. If you or a loved one are thinking about watching this game, please, seek help immediately.
Louisville -1.5 over Syracuse
I grew up in Syracuse, so maybe I’m biased, but I think the Orange can pull an upset here. Ryan Nassib can compete with Teddy Bridgewater, Cuse has played with heart this season, and the Carrier Dome provides a decent home field advantage. (The turf slopes downward toward the sidelines, creating a field that resembles a bell curve. You can’t see it but it’s very noticeable if you’ve ever been on the field, and it can create depth perception problems for an opposing quarterback. I know that because I ran around the field drunk one time before getting kicked out by a security guard. That’s the kind of inside knowledge you get here at Tom Z’s College Football Picks.) I wouldn’t be shocked if the Orange emerges from this game victorious. I won’t lie, I’m rooting for it.
That said, you bet with your head, not with your heart. Louisville has the better talent. Louisville has the better quarterback (it’s close but Bridgewater > Nassib). Louisville is 9-0, they’re the best team in the Big East and they seem destined for a winner-take-all showdown with Rutgers in the final week of the season. If you can get them at a point and a half against a sub-.500 team, you have to take it. On a final note, college basketball just started, so no one in Syracuse cares about the football team anymore. Louisville 31, Cuse 27. And if the Orange do somehow pull it off, I’ll consider that a moral victory.
West Virginia +7.5 over Oklahoma State
This line is too high. I know that West Virginia has had a couple abysmal games recently, but the teams that beat them both had tough defenses that could get to Geno Smith. I don’t think the Cowboys D-line will be able to stop West Virginia’s potent passing attack, so therefore we’re looking at another classic West Virginia shoot-out game. West Virginia is like your one crazy drunken friend. Some nights they’ll be the life of the party, and other nights they’ll be vomiting into the bushes at the Taco Bell drive-thru, but either way, it’s going to be exciting. Much like last week’s awesome WVU-TCU game, I expect this one to be decided late in the fourth quarter. In fact, I like the Mountaineers to pull this one out in the end. A revenge win to make up for their recent misgivings. WVU 37, Oklahoma State 34.
Vandy / Ole Miss UNDER 50
Sometimes games are defensive struggles, like last year’s 9-6 game between Alabama and LSU. Other times, announcers call a game a “defensive struggle” when it’s really just two teams with incompetent offenses. This game should be the latter. It will be an “offensive struggle,” as in these teams will struggle to have any offense. I have no idea who will win, but I think 20 points will get the job done.
Northwestern +11 over Michigan
Northwestern is a tough win. Quite frankly I’m stunned that they would be an eleven point underdog to anyone in the Big Ten, let alone a mediocre Michigan team. Update: From what I’m seeing, this line has swung two points towards Northwestern on some betting sites. I still like it. I think Northwestern has the potential to win outright. Take the points.
Georgia -16 over Auburn
I don’t like betting on Georgia because they’re horribly inconsistent. But when you look at the talent gap between these two teams, this line seems low. As long as Georgia shows up to play, they should trounce the Tigers, who by the way don’t have a conference win and probably aren’t going to get one. After this week, Auburn finishes their season with a non-conference cupcake game and a road game at Alabama. Good luck with that. Auburn is likely looking at a 3-9 record this year with no wins against big or even medium name teams. The point is, Gene Chizik better get his resume in order. The good news for Chizik is that he somehow got the Auburn job coming off a 5-19 record at Iowa State. At Auburn, he went 14-0 and won the one national championship with Cam “I Don’t Know Nothing About No Money” Newton, and went 19-19 his other two years. (I’m projecting through the end of the year.) So in other words, say hello to Gene Chizik, next coach of the New England Patriots!
Sidenote: Speaking of cupcakes, I was watching the election coverage this past Tuesday, and of course they kept mentioning the Electoral College, and I thought, Electoral College sounds like one of those Division 1-A cupcake schools that Florida State would play in week 1. They’d lose 70-3 and Jesse Palmer would be like, “The Seminoles looked good today, but let’s not overreact, it’s easy to look good against Electoral College!” In fact I think Florida State’s 2013 schedule starts off with Bryant & Stratton, Phoenix Online, Connecticut School of Broadcasting and Electoral College. Should be a 4-0 start for the Noles.
Texas A&M +13.5 over Alabama – STAY AWAY
I keep a poster over my desk that says “Never Bet Against Alabama” and has a picture of Nick Saban giving me the finger. Alright, that’s not true. The poster has a picture of a cat holding a calculator and it says “Ughh, Mondays!” But it could say “Never Bet Against Alabama,” because that is Rule #1 of the 2012 College Football Gambling Rulebook. (The rulebook was written by Tony Soprano with a foreword from Pete Rose.) My policy is, you either bet on Alabama, or you stay away. I’ll cut to the chase: I like A&M to keep this one close. LSU revealed a formula for beating Alabama last week, and Texas A&M has the players to emulate that formula. I doubt they win, but they have the ability to keep this to single digits. Alabama 27, Texas A&M 20. Per Rule #1, stay away.
BC +19 over Notre Dame
Notre Dame plays to the level of their opponent. They can hang with the mighty Oklahoma, or they can slum it with BYU. They can also straight-up suck on occasion, as we saw during last week’s inconceivable performance against Pitt. How the Irish won that game is still beyond me. Without a doubt, they deserve to be ranked last among the undefeated teams. Funny story, my friend is a big Ohio State fan, and last weekend we were talking about how the Buckeyes could potentially go undefeated, but it would be all for nothing since they’re bowl ineligible. He said he was actually happy about that, because he thinks this Buckeyes team is overrated and would get crushed by any of the current undefeated teams. Then he paused and said, “Well, except Notre Dame.” And there you have it, Irish fans. You are the one undefeated team that no one is afraid to play. I think the Irish get a win tomorrow night, but I think it comes in a hard-fought game that’s much closer than people expect. Notre Dame 24, Boston College 20, White People Infinity.
Oregon / Cal OVER 67.5
Cal’s best chance in this game was for the state of Oregon to legalize weed this past Tuesday, then for Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota to all show up high to the game. Oregon would still win but they probably wouldn’t cover. Of course that ballot measure was voted down, so ‘twas not to be for the Golden Bears. And now they’re saying Cal might use their backup QB. This game has blowout written all over it. The Ducks were unstoppable last week against USC, and they’ve been unstoppable all season. Sure, they could have a bad game, and they could even lose, but gambling is all about riding the hot hand, and nobody’s hotter than Oregon. Seriously have you seen Puddles the Duck? I’d hit that.
I prefer the OVER in this game simply because Oregon is likely to go into clock management mode for the entire second half. Like every game, they’ll have a 47-10 lead and end up winning 54-28. I may also bet the first half line, depending on what it is. (First half lines aren’t released until game day, but I expect it to be about 17.) You can do whatever you want. Betting on Oregon is like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You’re going to be satisfied afterward, it’s just a matter of whether you prefer gorging yourself on fried rice or stuffing yourself with shrimp.
TCU +7.5 over Kansas State
This is my upset special of the week. We’ve never finished a season with four undefeated teams – well, we have, but the teams that year included Boise State, Cincinnati and a pre-Big 12 TCU, so that doesn’t count – and I see no reason why it would happen this year. Somebody’s going down in November, maybe two somebody’s. Kansas State has played very well this season and I expect them to compete in a BCS bowl, but I just think the National Championship is slightly out of reach for this team. TCU took a small step backward after losing quarterback Casey Pachall, but they’ve rebounded and are now playing well. New QB Trevone Boykins has been a great leader, the defense is tenacious and this team matches up very well against Kansas State. I think the Frogs can get to the quarterback and cause problems all night for the Wildcats.
On the very important subject of quarterbacks, Collin Klein has a mystery injury and nobody really knows what’s going on. Klein sat out for a good portion of last week’s game with Oklahoma State, and the team was ineffective in his absence. Word on the street is he suffered a concussion. Coach Bill Snyder says he expects Klein to play this week, and he hasn’t said much else. If Klein doesn’t play, that spells trouble. Even if he’s playing at less than 100%, the Wildcats are vulnerable. Weeks ago, while looking at their remaining schedule, this game jumped out to me as Kansas State’s toughest test. You can check my previous columns, it’s in there somewhere. I liked TCU before Klein’s injury, and I like them even more now. Horned Frogs in a BCS-busting upset, 30-28.
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