This morning, as I’m sitting at my desk, sipping a Starbucks Pumpkin Latte and trying to write the intro to this column, there’s one thing that keeps going through my mind: Hype.
My coffee has a giant cardboard sleeve announcing the 10th Anniversary of the Starbucks Pumpkin Latte. Pumpkin lattes are delicious, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s just a coffee with hot milk and pumpkin-flavored simple syrup that costs five bucks a cup. Is this something we need to celebrate? I made a batch of apricot squares back in 2003, but you don’t see me throwing a parade. I’ve seen more this week about the anniversary of the pumpkin latte than the anniversary of 9/11. Freedom isn’t free, but apparently it’s less than $4.51 for a venti.
On a related note, Kmart already aired its first Christmas commercial. In case you’re confused, yes, we’re still in early September. This is not just pre-Thanksgiving or pre-Halloween. It’s pre-Columbus Day. Chris Columbus must be pissed. He’s like, “I discovered America and spread killer smallpox, and I’m getting edged out by a bunch of cheap stocking stuffers from China? This is bullshit, man!” Listen, we all love Christmas, but is this level of pre-hype necessary? Even Anthony Weiner is appalled by this lack of restraint.
Fortunately, this Saturday offers us something you rarely see these days: an event worthy of the hype. Alabama-Texas A&M is not just the game of the week; it might be the best game of the year. The Crimson Tide journey to College Station, one of the most hostile home crowds in all of football, to seek revenge for last year’s only defeat. Meanwhile, Heisman winner Johnny Manziel has a chance to silence all of his off-the-field critics with one more tremendous on-the-field performance. Alabama is a freight train speeding toward the national title, and Manziel is the lone gun who can derail them. It’s Saban vs. Sumlin, old school vs. new school, pro style vs. spread offense, #1 vs. #6 in a showdown for the ages. College football fans have been waiting for this game since long before the season began, and it’s finally here. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, this is a game that deserves the hype it has received. So get your friends together, throw on your Manziel jersey or your “Tebow Cried” t-shirt, grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte, finish up your Christmas shopping, and strap yourself in for an epic battle.
Here are my picks for the week...
Louisville -15.5 over Kentucky
Did you know that Teddy Bridgewater's first real game was against Kentucky? That has no significance whatsoever, but you can still expect the announcers of Saturday's game to bring it up 500 times. That's what happens during a blowout. Announcers just start making shit up to fill the time. John Madden was the best at this. You'd be watching a Thanksgiving game blowout where the Lions were down by 35 in the fourth quarter, and Madden would go into hungry mode. He wouldn't even mention the game, he'd just start talking about chicken wings for twenty minutes. We need to get Madden out of retirement to announce Louisville games this year, because no one else is capable of handling the amount of blowout minutes that the Cardinals will provide this season. It's going to get ugly. Some people would argue that Kentucky is the best opponent that Louisville will face all season. I'd rank them about 4th best. Either way, that's sad. Get ready for a lot of woodshed games and a BCS appearance. I'll take the Cardinals by at least 20 in this one. In fact, as my Take the Points podcast co-host Dan P pointed out, Louisville at +2000 for the BCS title is not a bad bet. You just need the Cardinals to go undefeated (they should), every other team to lose once (very possible), and then one great performance in the National Championship Game (or you can hedge at game time).
Oklahoma -24.5 over Tulsa
This is a tough call. Because of the injury to Trevor Knight, Oklahoma is forced to start the Belldozer, a.k.a. Blake Bell. Bell is great at smashing through the goal line, but he's a limited passer and he turns the Sooners into a one-dimensional team. The good news is, they may only need one dimension to beat Tulsa. I was all set to pick the Golden Hurricane as my upset special for the week, but then I did some research, and man, are they bad. They lost by 27 to Bowling Green -- who granted, is a pretty good MAC team -- and barely beat Colorado State. The Colorado schools were some of the worst in the country in 2012, so barely beating Colorado State is like graduating just ahead of Miley Cyrus in charm school. This team is not to be trusted. I would stay away from this game or place a small wager on Oklahoma. Keep an eye on the Sooners though. Starting two weeks from now, Oklahoma gets into the meat of their schedule. If Knight is still out, or even if he's rusty, that could provide us with some nice betting opportunities.
Oregon -28.5 over Tennessee
According to Yardbarker.com, "Tennessee is in a rebuilding process this year." Hahahaha. Doesn't rebuilding imply that you used to be good? I understand that UT lost Tyler “Straight Cash” Bray, Patterson, Hunter, et al., but they were never a good team, just a handful of talented guys who went 5-7 last year.
I feel bad for Tennessee fans. These people are used to success. They're passionate fans who turn out for games. They love to tailgate and they exemplify what being a college football fan is all about. Yet they've had to suffer through five losing seasons in the last six years. I thought the decision to fire Phillip Fulmer in 2008 was a mistake, and so far history has proven me correct. The guy was a good coach and a great recruiter. And yes, going 10-4 and playing in the Outback Bowl every year is not exactly the pinnacle that an SEC powerhouse is aiming to achieve, but it's a hell of a lot better than going 5-7 and playing Tecmo Bowl in your parents' basement. We'll see how Butch Jones works out as a coach. He did a good job at Cincinnati, but that's like running a JV team when compared to coaching in the SEC.
However Tennessee turns out this year, they're definitely overmatched in this game. Oregon hasn't lost a step from last year. They were my preseason pick to play in the National Championship Game, and so far I haven't seen anything to change my opinion. The line is very high, and I would feel a lot better if it even dropped one point to 27.5. (Four touchdowns vs. four touchdowns and a field goal is a big difference.) My main concern is whether the Vols will score enough garbage time points to get a cheap backdoor cover. I fully expect the Ducks to blow the doors off Tennessee. UT has to travel all the way across the country to play in a tough environment in Eugene. They'll be tired, they'll be anxious and they'll be severely overmatched from a talent standpoint. I think this game, being nationally televised, is where America realizes just how good Marcus Mariota is. I'm taking the Ducks, but I'll be keeping an eye out to see if I can get a lower line or possibly a decent first-half line. Oregon 56, Tennessee 23.
Mississippi State +6.5 over Auburn
Sometimes things can be deceiving. Like for example the show "How I Met Your Mother." It seems like a nice comedy where a hopeless romantic recalls the story of meeting his lovely wife for their future children. But really, it's Bob Saget telling two pre-teens salacious stories where his friend fucks strippers. Or take the Auburn Tigers. They're 2-0 this year and seem to be rebounding from a tough season with a new coach at the helm. But really, they're one of the worst teams in the SEC. I think Gus Malzahn is a really good coach, but until the Tigers prove otherwise, they're the team that couldn't beat a D-1 opponent last year. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is an average SEC team, meaning they'd do well in any other conference. This should be a hard-fought game. Auburn has the home field advantage, and they might win the game, but this line is too high. Take the points.
Maryland -7 over UConn
UConn welcomes Michigan to Rentschler Field next weekend. I've already begun shifting my assets and divesting my 401K in anticipation. No line is too high for that game. Until then we're stuck with the Randy Edsall Bowl. I like Edsall. I think he overachieved with his UConn teams for years, culminating in the Huskies' 2011 Fiesta Bowl appearance, where I won $50 betting against the Huskies and then got a $50 parking ticket in downtown Hartford while watching the game. (Damn you karma!) I don't know what's going on with Maryland, though. When I think of the Terps, the word that comes to mind is, "meh." I'll take Edsall over his former team, but my confidence level in this game is low. It's a $5 bet type of game. The world-record for field goals is on the line. Maryland 25, UConn 16.
South Carolina -14 over Vanderbilt
I believe in something I call the sine curve theory. When a good team gets beat down one week, they come back strong the following week, following the pattern of a sine wave. Or, to put it in terms a South Carolina football player could understand, last week you do bad, this week you do good. I expect the Gamecocks to come out and rough up Vanderbilt. Vandy's a good team, but unfortunately they're coming into Columbia at a bad time, and they're going to suffer the wrath of an angry SC squad. After that Georgia game, South Carolina is like a girl that just got dumped. They can sit around for the next three months eating Haagen Dazs and crying, or they can hit the gym and try to come back better than ever. I believe in the Ol' Ball Coach and that's why I'm betting on the latter. But if Jadeveon Clowney comes out for warm-ups in Juicy sweatpants with smeared makeup, I'm changing my bet. South Carolina 38, Vandy 17.
Arizona State -4.5 over Wisconsin
I’ve got some inside information about Arizona from my friend Dan, who lives in Phoenix.
It's fuckin' hot.
Yes, that's the kind of brilliant wisdom we give here at Take the Points. Only the legendary college football analyst Al Roker can provide that kind of insight. But honestly, it's all you need to know. Saturday's high in AZ is 104 degrees. If your body was that temperature, you would die. These teams not only have to not die, they have to play a football game. The Arizona State team is used to scorching hot days, and they're prepared for the heat and the altitude of Sun Devil Stadium. Wisconsin players are already wearing jeans and canning beets for the winter season. The Badgers will run the ball and control the clock early, but eventually Todd Graham's up-tempo offense will wear down the Wisconsin D. Lay the points, and make sure to watch this game, if only for the scantily-clad ASU student section.
Alabama -8 at Texas A&M - STAY AWAY
Finally, our game of the week. Make that our game of the month. Hell, our game of the year. We'll see what happens. As always I must start by reminding everyone of Rule #1 in the Take the Points gambling handbook:
Don't bet against Alabama.
8 points is a lot. Alabama has become the Dallas Cowboys of college; people will bet on them no matter how unfair the line. This is a marquee SEC showdown between two top ten teams. The line shouldn't be more than a touchdown. I still think it's foolish to bet against Bama in this game, but if you lay the eight points you're going to have a heart attack watching Johnny Manziel run around past Bama linebackers. So you may win, but you'll be dead, and then you can't collect. What I'm saying is, there's no good option, so don’t bet heavily. Trust me, when this game starts, you won't be thinking about your wager anyways. You'll be enthralled by the incredible amount of talented players competing for national dominance in the biggest game of the year.
As far as the game itself, I'm predicting a five point Alabama win.
Manziel will move the ball against the Tide, but he'll be rusty, having not been tested much this season. I foresee A&M missing out on a couple scoring opportunities, one of those games where you look back and say, "We should have won that game if only…"
On the flip side, I like a healthy dose of T.J. Yeldon for the Tide. Yeldon is a beast and I think he'll see a heavy workload. When Alabama's offensive line is asking boosters for a raise next summer, they'll point to this game as an example of the hard work they have to do. Of course, when all is said and done, it will be the heart and soul of the Tide, A.J. McCarron, leading Bama to victory. McCarron is a household name and he's dating Miss Alabama, yet somehow he still isn't getting the credit he deserves. He's the reason Alabama won the title last year, and the reason they're the favorite this year. Yes, the defense is great. Yes, the running game is solid. You could say the same about LSU. The reason the Tide hoisted the AFCA Trophy and the LSU played in the Chic-Fil-A Bowl comes down to one thing, the quarterback. In our fantasy football, stat-obsessed world, we focus on guys like Manziel and Tajh Boyd, but McCarron still leads the nation in the one stat that matters most. He's a winner, and I think this Saturday he's going to show us all why. Manziel will get the stats, but McCarron will make the play that wins the game. Alabama is going to be good next year and beyond, but I think that one day Tide fans will look back at the McCarron era and say, “Damn, that guy was good.” Then they’ll take another hit of moonshine and yell at their 15-year old wife. Anyway, I'd complement McCarron more, but I have a complement limit for guys who wearing bow ties in public, and we're already well past that limit. Roll Tide.
Alabama 29, Texas A&M 24
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Tom Z: @thefaketomz