by Mike Ivcic
We’re down to just about five major players for a national championship, barring any huge unforeseen upsets over the next four weeks. Ohio State, Florida State, and Alabama should all have some fairly easy victories this week, but some possibly interesting tests arise for numbers four and five on Saturday that could provide some additional clarity for the BCS picture.
16) Michigan State @ Nebraska
Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2
Line: Michigan State by 6.5
With the Wolverines now soundly out of the equation after back-to-back losses to these two teams, this is basically the game that will decide Ohio State’s final potentially stumbling block en route to a second consecutive undefeated season (excuse me while I stab needles in my eyes after re-reading that sentence… ok we’re good). While the Buckeyes will be busy mauling Illinois, the Spartans and Cornhuskers will meet with a lot on the line. A chance at a BCS bowl will likely disappear for one of these teams, especially if it’s Michigan State that comes away with a win, but I expect this game to be a quintessential, throwback-style Big Ten game. Both teams run the ball well, pass only when necessary, and have physically bruising defenses that win field position battles. It’ll be warm but it’ll also be rainy and windy on Saturday in Lincoln, so expect a sloppy, ball-control, field-position, time-of-possession contest that just screams low scoring, and to me that makes this line far too high – and maybe, even, siding with the wrong team. It’s been a tough season for Nebraska, but this could be their season’s defining moment.
Pick: Nebraska 20, Michigan State 17
23) Miami FL @ Duke
Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2
Line: Miami FL by 3
We know one participant in the ACC championship game, as Florida State has already clinched the Atlantic Division title. Their opponent in that game is a much murkier picture, as four teams enter this weekend tied with 2 losses in the Coastal Division. By the time you read this, it’s probably that Georgia Tech will have suffered a loss to Clemson and finished their ACC schedule at 5-3 and the leader in the clubhouse. Virginia Tech sits at 4-2 and has Maryland (see below) and Virginia, so let’s assume they wrap up their season at 6-2. That makes this game between a pair of 3-2 teams a virtual elimination game, and who would have thought that would be something possible to say about Duke football entering the third Saturday in November? With Wake Forest and North Carolina left, albeit both on the road, it’s not at all absurd to think that a Duke win here would put the Blue Devils, who also own the tiebreaker over the Hokies, into their first-ever ACC championship game. So yes, maybe I’m buying into a “good story” and not looking at the face that the Hurricanes are almost assuredly a better football team, but I’m taking Duke to win this one outright and keep them at the very least tied for the division lead.
Pick: Duke 27, Miami FL 20
25) Georgia @ 7) Auburn
Saturday, 3:30pm, CBS
Line: Auburn by 3.5
I don’t like Auburn – let me just get that out in the open right up front. They have one marquee victory, a 45-41 win over Texas A&M in College Station, and one solid win in their defeat of Ole Miss. I understand that the SEC tends to be rated more highly than the other conferences, but the Tigers non-conference wins are Washington State, Arkansas State, Western Carolina, and Florida Atlantic. THAT’S Â a BCS team? Really? So perhaps in a similar fashion, I will take a more battle-tested Georgia Bulldogs team that I dislike equally as much as Auburn to win this game. Just know, however, that two weeks from now I will flip this script and root heavily for the Tigers to win their Iron Bowl rivalry with Alabama, just so the SEC won’t have a team in the national championship game. Can you tell I’m getting sick of this conference and insane hype surrounding nearly every school in it?
Pick: Georgia 30, Auburn 23
12) Oklahoma State @ 24) Texas
Saturday, 3:30pm, FOX
Line: Oklahoma State by 3
If Baylor stumbles at any point over the remainder of the season, these are the two teams that have the best chance to step up and claim the Big 12 crown. The Longhorns are still without a loss and are doing their best to set up a de facto conference championship game with the Bears the final weekend of the season, while the Cowboys will need a little more help since they already lost to Baylor but are still in line for a possible BCS berth if s couple more teams stub their toes over the final month. One of those two dreams will almost certainly come to an end in this game, and while Mack Brown has to be given a ton of credit for turning the Texas season around, I just don’t think his offense can score enough to overcome Oklahoma State.
Pick: Oklahoma State 34, Texas 27
5) Baylor vs. Texas Tech (Arlington, TX)
Saturday, 7:00pm, FOX
Line: Baylor by 27
The steam has come off of the Red Raiders bandwagon in a hurry. After opening the season with seven straight wins and moving as high as 10th in the rankings, Tech has now lost three straight to the Oklahoma duo and Kansas State. Still, this team still ranks first in the country in passing offensive as they enter their showdown with Baylor at Jerry World this week. I think The Red Raiders will surprise some people here and give the Bears a pretty good game. Baylor’s offense will almost certainly prove to be too much at the end of the day, especially against a porous Tech defense, but Texas Tech will almost assuredly score their fair share of points too. I really don’t think Baylor is four touchdowns better than Texas Tech, so I think the cover is a very safe play in this one.
Pick: Baylor 48, Texas Tech 31
4) Stanford @ USC
Saturday, 8:00pm, ABC
Line: Stanford by 4
This is being billed as a big game, but I just don’t see it. Sure, a loss here by Stanford puts Oregon right back into the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North, but does anyone really expect that the Cardinal, coming off the signature win of their season and in position to claim a possible BCS title game spot with one or two well-placed losses, is going to go to Southern Cal and lay an egg against a team that’s already fired their coach and lost to Washington State? I don’t, and certainly not enough to wager on the Trojans with only a four-point spread.
Pick: Stanford 40, USC 13
Maryland @ Virginia Tech
Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC
Line: Virginia Tech by 16.5
Remember when Maryland was ranked and viewed as a trendy “upset” pick heading into their matchup with Florida State? Well, so much for that idea. The Terps are now 1-4 in the ACC and clinging to a 5-4 record in search of that one additional win for bowl eligibility. They’re probably not going to pull off a win here against a Hokies team that has been one of the more Jekyll and Hyde teams in all of FBS this season and now sits in that aforementioned four-way tie atop the Coastal Division, but I think 16.5 is too many points. Remember, before the thumped Miami 42-24 last week, they had lost back-to-back games to Duke and Boston College, and as good as their defense is, their offense is still just 56th in passing and 103rd in rushing. VT will stay in the divisional race, but it’ll be a close win, not a blowout.
Pick: Virginia Tech 28, Maryland 24
Last Week: 4-3 straight up, 5-2 against spread
Season: 52-25 straight up, 30-46-1 against spread
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