Well, I’ve taken my lumps the last two weeks going 6-14 in the process but we’ll see if I have something to be thankful for next Thursday after the games this weekend. It’s a funky week with a lot of big spreads and almost no home underdogs so I tried, as I normally do, to pick the games that I find most compelling for one reason or another. As always, here are the picks…
No. 10 Ohio State at Michigan (+11 ½)—“The Game” does not have much to hype up about it other than your typical border war; Ohio State is already Rose Bowl-bound and Michigan is trying to avoid losing seven straight Big Ten games. Ohio State has knocked off two consecutive ranked opponents and will use their tenacious defense (ranked 6th in scoring defense in FBS) to shut down Michigan’s spread attack. The Wolverines need this game to somewhat salvage another miserable season. Coaching change rumors and last-place standings are far away from where they thought they would be this season but a win over their hated rival would cure what ails them. No chance but it’s closer than some might expect. Ohio State 27, Michigan 20.
North Carolina at Boston College (-3 ½)—The Tar Heels come to Chestnut Hill with a chance to end the Eagles’ bid for a third consecutive ACC Championship Game appearance. North Carolina has been an up-and down team but are on a three-game roll that resulted most recently in an upset of No. 14 Miami last weekend; their 13th ranked defense has been their biggest asset. BC has had similar issues staying consistent but they are 6-0 at home and will play at noon not knowing the result of the Clemson game; the Tigers need to lose for BC to have a shot at the ACC Title. BC struggled badly against the good defenses in Clemson and Virginia Tech but you can never count the Eagles out of a must win game. BC 21, UNC 20.
Connecticut at Notre Dame (-6)—UConn has lost their five games this year by a combined 15 points and have been in every game to the last minute. The Huskies can become bowl-eligible with a little late-season run starting with this one at South Bend. Notre Dame comes in besieged by rumors of head coach Charlie Weis’ imminent departure but will try to salvage these last two games, run their record to 8-4, and let the chips fall. While it’s possible to think that ND has checked out during another disappointing season, keep in mind Clausen, Tate, and others are still showcasing for the NFL. Notre Dame 30, UConn 20.
No. 8 LSU at Mississippi (-4)—One of the eye-opening spreads of the week has Ole Miss as a favorite against the LSU Tigers who lost their only two games in hard fought contests versus the nation’s top two teams in Florida and ‘Bama. The Tigers allow less than 14 points a game (10th in FBS) but have struggled throughout the season on offense (107th in yardage in FBS). Mississippi’s lethal combo of QB Jevan Snead and RB Dexter McCluster can punish any time as Tennessee learned last week in a 42-17 blowout. A win here would give Ole Miss a second place finish behind Florida and I think they will get it in a close one in a strange upset-but-not-an-upset showdown. Ole Miss 24, LSU 21.
Virginia at No. 23 Clemson (-20 ½)—Clemson comes into this game with a chance to close out the ACC Atlantic Division which would put them in the ACC Championship Game for the first time. The Tigers are averaging 42 points per game during a five-game winning streak and will host the struggling Cavaliers in order to advance and try to win their first ACC title since 1991. Virginia ranks 118th in the nation with 266.7 yards per game and 106th in scoring offense, averaging 19.8 points and will try to move the ball against Clemson’s 20th ranked defense that leads the nation in INTs. This should be a blowout as the wheels came off the wagon for UVA over a month ago and they will play only the role of spoiler on Saturday. But, I think Clemson calls off the dogs in the second half after the game is in hand – back door cover. Clemson 37, UVA 17
Southern Methodist at Marshall (-4)—In another amazing (and under-the-radar) turnaround job by head coach June Jones, SMU can actually lock up a bowl with a win over Marshall this Saturday. The Mustangs sit in first place in their division in C-USA and will try to hang on to it for their last two games. Marshall will also be looking to become bowl-eligible despite being banged up and sporting an offense that ranks in the 100s in the scoring department. I think SMU finally gets noticed after this win. SMU 27, Marshall 24.
No. 25 California at No. 17 Stanford (-7)—Generally, one would not expect that Stanford would become a weekly entry regarding the “hot” games on the college gridiron but here we are again chatting about the Cardinal. Stanford is now bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001 thanks to Heisman candidate RB Toby Gerhart who leads the way for the 10th-ranked offense in the country. Cal will be without star RB Jahvid Best when they take on their biggest rival. Points should be abundant in this contest and the PAC-10 has been tricky this season but Stanford should take care of business at home. Stanford 35, Cal 27.
No. 11 Oregon at Arizona (+6)—Oregon needs to practice the mantra “Win and advance” which is usually reserved for basketball teams in March. As the only one-loss team remaining in the PAC-10, the Ducks control their road to the Rose Bowl and will take their ninth-ranked offense to Tucson and try to waddle past the Wildcats. Arizona fell from the rankings after a loss to Cal last week but actually control their own destiny for the Rose Bowl if they can win their last three games. Zona was gashed last week by Cal which was a terrible way to enter the game against Oregon whuch has the most powerful offense in the conference. Ducks take it and cover…Oregon 41, Arizona 30.
Louisiana-Monroe at Louisiana-Lafayette (+2 ½)—Louisiana-Monroe (their nickname is the Warhawks for all those keeping score) is looking to become bowl-eligible for the first time in school history. The Ragin’ Cajuns will also be looking to go bowling if they can win their last two. The reality is not many of us have seen these teams play this year but it is a HUGE game for both teams determining potential bowl games and definite bragging rights for a year at least. This is my one chance to take the home underdog this week, so I will. ULL 28, ULM 24.
Kansas at No. 3 Texas (-27 ½)—The Longhorns have the opportunity to put away their division against Kansas and continue their run toward the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena on Jan 7th. With an offense that is as prolific as the defense is fierce, Texas is on a mission right now and the Jayhawks are simply in their way. Adding to this mix is Kansas’ inability to keep teams out of the end zone and a dark cloud hanging over head coach Mark Mangino’s head. Allegations of mistreatment of his players, both present and former, have hit the news and will only serve as further distraction. Texas’ second stringers should see some time on Saturday. Texas 52, Kansas 21.
Last week: 4-6