by Mike Ivcic
Just call this “judgment week” in college football. Three huge games with conference and national title implications highlight the schedule, but there are also a couple of other games that will also have an impact. For the month of November, we’re combing through the slate each week to pick out games that may not always feature the heavy hitters (no Florida State or Texas A&M this week, for example) but will likely be have a major determination as to who plays in conference championship games. This week the Pac-12 South, Big Ten Legends, and American Athletic all have some crucial games, which we break down under each individual game. But before we get there, though – two HUGE showdowns on Thursday.
10) Oklahoma @ 6) Baylor
Thursday, 7:30pm, Fox Sports 1
Line: Baylor by 15
For the second straight week, a top ten team is a multiple touchdown underdog to a fellow top ten team. While many have been wailing about a potential undefeated Ohio State’s season not resulting in a national championship game appearance, the same could be said for Baylor if they run the table, too. The Bears actually play a harder schedule, by comparison, than the Buckeyes do, even if the Big Ten championship game will provide OSU with an additional showcase not available to Baylor. But all of this is moot if the most dynamic offense in the county (sorry, Oregon) can’t produce against the Sooners. This is Baylor’s one shot to impress the college football world, though, and I don’t think they disappoint.
Pick: Baylor 44, Oklahoma 20
3) Oregon @ 5) Stanford
Thursday, 9:00pm, ESPN
Line: Oregon by 10
Similar to above – how good do you have to be to be a double-digit favorite on the road against a top five team? Well, let’s start with the nation’s second-ranked offense and eighth-ranked defense. Add to that a minimum of 42 points scored in every game this season, including a 42-14 win over number 12 UCLA ten days ago and a 45-24 victory on the road against number 16 Washington in mid-October. For our purposes, however, let’s just look at the dichotomy of the last two years. In 2011, 7th-ranked Oregon went into 4th-ranked and undefeated Stanford and destroyed the Cardinal (and Andrew Luck’s senior season) with a 53-30 drubbing. Last year, though, Stanford got revenge by walking into Eugene against the undefeated and 2nd-ranked Ducks and coming away with a 17-14 overtime win. Obviously two years ago is the most relevant to this discussion from a situational similarity, but that game included Luck and LeMichael James, two key players that won’t be participating for their respective teams this year. I think David Shaw is one of the most underrated coaches in the game right now and will have his troops, especially on defense, well-prepared for this matchup. Remember, before this matchup last year Oregon had scored 42 points or more in all 10 of their previous games, so even if Oregon does win this year – and I think they do – I see it playing out more like last year’s nailbiter than 2011’s blowout.
Pick: Oregon 31, Stanford 24
22) Arizona State @ Utah
Saturday, 4:00pm, Pac-12
Line: Arizona State by 7
Utah has already scored one major upset this year with their win over Stanford, and now they host the Pac-12 South leaders with the chance to pull off another stunner. Pac-12 executives, as well as everyone from whichever school wins Thursday night’s showdown, are pulling heavily for the Sun Devils, who really need to win out in order to set up the best possible conference championship game. This becomes an even bigger deal if Stanford wins, because it’s unlikely that the Cardinal jump even a one-loss SEC team, let alone multiple undefeated teams. For the Utes to screw all that up, though, they’ll need to channel that home field advantage that allowed them to also keep the UCLA game within one possession and take Oregon State to overtime. It’s a nice thought, but I think the Arizona State keeps their one game lead over UCLA, Arizona, and USC in the South.
Pick: Arizona State 31, Utah 21
Virginia Tech @ 11) Miami FL
Saturday, 7:00pm, ESPN
Line: Miami by 6.5
Two weeks ago, many pundits were touting the Hokies as a legitimate threat to the winner of the FSU-Clemson game when the ACC title game rolled around. Losses to Duke and BC have tempered that talk significantly, and now they venture to southern Florida to take on an angry Hurricanes team. I don’t think Al Golden is the type of coach who will allow his players to lick their wounds and dwell on the second half thumping the Seminoles gave them Saturday night, so I expect Miami to come out with guns blazing and romp all over Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer’s team does have a fairly stout defense, though (9th nationally in points allowed), so they may keep this game close for a while, and don’t overlook the fact that a VT win would put four teams (Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and… wait for it… DUKE!) into a tie atop the Coastal standings. As fun as that sounds… it’s not happening.
Pick: Miami FL 24, Virginia Tech 13
Houston @ 21) Central Florida
Saturday, 7:00pm, ESPN2
Line: Central Florida by 10.5
Ladies and gentlemen – your “AAC” conference championship game! Ok, it’s not that guaranteed just yet, but these are the last two undefeated schools in the conference. Louisville, Cincinnati, and SMU are all sitting at one loss, so it’s not as if the winner here will be guaranteed the conference title, but especially for Central Florida, who already has a win over Louisville in their back pocket, it’s quite close. I like the Cougars offense, but I watched Central Florida rally from that huge deficit against the Cardinals and I just can’t bring myself to go against them. Just to hedge my best, I’ll take Houston to cover, but George O’Leary’s crew should win this one at home.
Pick: Central Florida 36, Houston 30
13) LSU @ 1) Alabama
Saturday, 8:00pm, CBS
Line: Alabama by 12.5
And finally, the game of the night. Anyone with an interest in college football probably remembers the 9-6 snoozefest that happened the last time these two teams met in Tuscaloosa, but these two teams are quite different two seasons later. Alabama’s defense is still just about as good, but the offense is significantly better – and so, too, is LSU’s, so this game has the potential to be a lot more high-scoring than the games these teams typically play. I think the issue here will be the Tigers’ defense, which hasn’t been nearly as good as it’s been in years past under Les Miles. LSU has allowed 44 points to Georgia, 26 points to Mississippi State, and 27 points to Mississippi in the last five games – two of which were losses. LSU’s only hope of winning this game is to keep the Crimson Tide under about 24 points or so, and their defense doesn’t look capable of doing that. As a result, I can’t even find a way to talk myself into a cover for LSU – I think ‘Bama wins this by two touchdowns.
Pick: Alabama 38, LSU 24
Nebraska @ Michigan
Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC
Line: Michigan by 7
With Michigan State’s total domination of big brother Michigan last week, the Big Ten Legends race has basically boiled down to 5-0 Sparty and 3-1 Nebraska. Those two teams meet next week in Lincoln, so this game ultimately serves as a de facto “semifinal” game for the Cornhuskers. Already a game back, they have no choice but to go into Ann Arbor and win if they want next week’s game to mean anything. It would basically create a situation where the winner of MSU-Nebraska would play Ohio State for a Big Ten title in December, but Michigan still has to feel like they have an outside shot if they can win this one and then get some help from Nebraska, Northwestern, and Minnesota (Michigan State’s closing schedule). While it’s true that the Wolverines have been atrocious on the road, they’ve been the opposite at home, as evidenced by the 7-point line in their favor. Personally, I think that’s too high, but I do think the Wolverines help out their “little brother” and win the game.
Pick: Michigan 34, Nebraska 31
Last Week: 6-1 straight up, 2-5 against spread
Season: 48-22 straight up, 25-44-1 against spread
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