December 03, 2010

WeIs Roundtable Week 14 Picks: Conference Armageddon Edition

The BCS snow globe is finally settling into a navigable landscape and the picture is surprisingly cheery.  Two last hurdles to clear for an undisputable heavyweight title bout that the nation (outside of Fort Worth) can be at peace with.  Obviously, there are other less desirable matchups still to come thanks to the BCS rules we know and love, but the stated main goal of a clear cut champ is within the grasp.

One school must escape unscathed from civil strife in the Northwest, the other must best a formidable foe for the second time (and the first was difficult enough).  In other games of particular conference consequence (sorry you didn’t make the cut MAC championship), two storied rivals lock horns (while the actual ‘Horns watch wistfully) in a final Big XII send-off for the Big Red Nation.  Atlanta plays host to a re-match of the 1999 championship game, while Tampa surprisingly plays host to either the most unlikely automatic BCS sendoff party (ever?) or an encore performance of the South Florida Spoiler Special.   

Thanks for a great season of spanning the globe with us.  We’ll leave the Army-Navy game next week to the experts but will return in some capacity to handicap bowl season.  If you haven’t paid attention yet, Mike Brey is blowing minds with the Irish hoopsters’ promising start.  Plenty of thoughts to come on that subject, but for now…on to the picks. 

Auburn (-4) vs. South Carolina

Dan: Auburn (-4)

In Cam Newton I trust. I’ve liked the Gamecocks all year. But on a neutral field, Auburn can beat SC by a touchdown.

Auburn 34 South Carolina 27

Jeremy: Auburn (-4)

I know earlier in the week, some places weren’t offering lines on this game due to a rumor that Stephen Garcia might not play because of injury.  At the very least, we have to assume that Garcia is going to be hobbled a bit, right?  I’d love to see the dynamic duo of Jeffrey and Lattimore keep this thing close late into the 4th quarter, but Cam Newton is playing out of his mind and can almost smell that national title game.

Auburn 34  South Carolina 27

Jimmy: Auburn (-4)  Lock of the Week

With the help of my good buddy and esteemed wordsmith, Ryan Birdsong (a pen name in honor of the illustrious crowd-wanderer) my weekly picks take the form of the centuries old Japanese art of haiku. 

Cam impervious
Can Spurrier get Cocks off?
Hell No. War Eagle!

Auburn 39  South Carolina 31

Matt: Auburn (-4)  Lock of the Week

What can you say about that performance out of Auburn last week.  I’ll admit, I thought they were dead in the water last week.  Really, the turning point in the game was the Ingram fumble that somehow didn’t go out of bounds.  And of course the drop by Richardson that would have been a sure TD.  That’s 11 points off the board, and the score would have been 35-0, game over.  Give Auburn a ton of credit, they rattled McElroy, injured Jones, and played the best defense they have played all week. 

If I’m handing out credit, I must give a heaping portion of it to Spurrier and Carolina for the throttling they gave on the road to Clemson last week.  As I wrote last week, I thought Cocky would be caught looking ahead to Atlanta, but they came out and just pounded the Tigers.  A dismal performance for Clemson, and questions must be asked about the long term prospects of Dabo Swinney.  It seems like these interim turned permanent head coaches rarely work out, and I just don’t think he’s the answer there.  They haven’t really challenged in what has been a down ACC for the past three years.  Clemson has the facilities, the recruiting base, the SEC-like fan base…there really is no reason they should be 6-6.  In fairness, all of their losses have been close except for last week, but losing at home to Miami or on the road to a depleted UNC, or losing to BC?  Those are not good losses.

I know that South Carolina played Auburn close earlier in the year, and Lattimore and Jeffery have gotten better since that matchup.  But Auburn is a team on a mission this year.  Cam Newton has imposed his will on every game in which the outcome has been in doubt, and I expect him to do the same this week.  Lately, it’s been making plays with his arm, but I think he has another superior rushing effort against Carolina. 

Auburn 34 South Carolina 24

Mike: South Carolina (+4)

Auburn continues to prove me wrong every week.  Still, when I look at the Tigers, I see a one-man team with a poor defense that somehow manages to squeak by every week in improbably fashion.  While several championship teams in recent memory have been able to make a habit out of winning nailbiters (e.g., Oklahoma in 2000, Ohio State in 2002), there have been plenty of other teams whose luck has run out in the final hour. 

South Carolina almost won at Auburn despite losing the turnover battle and the Ball Coach has his team playing exceptionally well at the right time of the year.  The Gamecocks are also receiving little to no fanfare in this game, which should give South Carolina a psychological edge.  I hope I’m wrong regarding the outright upset, however, because I don’t want to see TCU in the title game.

South Carolina 30 Auburn 28

Bonus SEC Title game thoughts, courtesy of Madonia:

A week after the greatest win in team history, and 1 day after exoneration of our team’s biggest star, Auburn is faced with the sole task of winning 1 game. There are no distractions, no rivalries to get up for, nothing left up for chance a la 2004. This week the message is simple – win and we are in.
Last week I said that it would devastate us to get down big on the road against a good team. I said it could be crippling to fumble a punt.  I was wrong. Those boys inexplicably found a way to battle back and win a game when they were left for dead. My hat goes off to the hustle, the love, and the leadership displayed by Antoine Carter, Kodi Burns, Cam Newton, and Slick Nick Fairley.
 I also said we would sell out to stop the run (Heisman and Richardson combined for 75 yards), we would need to Tee off on McElroy (gone with a concussion), and that even if Julio had a huge day (12 catches, 200 yards, TD), it would not be enough. Overall, I ended up being right.
I have an eerily similar game assessment for this game.  We must limit Lattimore. I think we can weather the storm as far as Alshon’s touches….the key to stop him is for our front 7 to bust up Garcia. He is already slightly injured and we need to blitz from the opening snap. We have knocked out 5 QBs this year (Garcia included), and we need to do the same this week.  If we get consistent pressure, then we can keep their offense in 3rd and long and I like our chances.
What do I not like? I hate that we are facing Spurrier for the second time. I allude to the 1996 year when FSU beat UF in a close regular season finale, only to have UF destroy FSU in the Sugar Bowl 1 month later and win the national title. Spurrier now is not the same guy he was 15 years ago, but I shudder to think the outcome if he conjured up his brilliance for one more go-round.  In a game of the smart, ex-Duke Blue Devil head coaches, I give the advantage to Spurrier over our D.C. Ted Roof 10 times out of 10.
Malzahn was quoted after the UGA game, that he would continue to run the ball until someone stopped us. Well, Bama provided the blueprint to slow Cam and Dyer. It took Malazhn throwing the ball downfield to start the second half to soften up the D before the run game could get going. I expect USC to do the same thing, and I hope Malzhan comes out guns blazing and throw the ball until the running lanes open. I would love to get some early defensive stops followed by some quick strike scores, then let Cam and Dyer eat up the clock and win going away. We will see.  Again, no jinxing prediction, but I have faith in the coaches to keep us focused, and this Auburn Team to rise to the occasion.
War Damn Eagle!
Virginia Tech (-4) vs. Florida State

Dan: Florida State (+4)

Florida State may be primed for a letdown after last week, but I like them to keep this game within a field goal. Tyrod Taylor still wins the ACC redeeming V Tech for their early season failures, but FSU gets the cover.

VT 20 FSU 17

Jeremy: Virginia Tech (-4)

FSU was impressive in taking the Gators behind the woodshed last week, so I’m looking for a bit of a letdown game here.  Beamer Ball rules the day again in the ACC and Va Tech is going to another BCS game.

Virginia Tech 27  Florida St. 20

Jimmy: Virginia Tech (-4)

Tyrod plays like Favre
Sterger in absencia
Beamer Ball cooks Noles

VT 27  FSU 21

Matt: Virginia Tech (-4)

The ACC should be sending a congratulatory fruit basket (or maybe a whole roasted pig or at least a meat and cheese basket would be more appropriate given the recipient) to Ralph Friedgen for pulling off the upset over NC State last weekend and sending the Noles to Charlotte.  The conference now has the best possible matchup, and with the close proximity of Blacksburg, there should be no empty seats to be highlighted by the TV cameras.  For once, the ACC Championship has become compelling television for the casual football fan.

As for Florida State, was there any doubt that Bobby Bowden needed to be escorted out the door.  Could this program have taken off even earlier if he would have been given a watch and a handshake five years ago?  Is Penn State allowing the same thing to happen to their program?  All questions that will remain unanswered, but what we do know is that Jimbo Fisher has certainly injected life into the program.  They’ve knocked off the mighty Gators as the top program in the state for this year, and are burning up the recruiting trail.  There really is no reason that Florida, FSU and Miami should not be competing for national championships every year.  I think we are about to see FSU return to prominence, not the dominance of the mid 90’s, but definitely a relevant program nationally, which is more than can be said for the last teams of the Bowden era.
Having said all of that, I still believe that this Virginia Tech is a better team.  Tyrod Taylor has become one of the better QB’s in the country, and the Bud Foster defense is just doing what it normally does.  Look for Christian Ponder to throw a pick or two, and I expect a Hokie win and appearance in the Orange Bowl on a 11 game winning streak.  Not bad for a team that lost to James Madison.

Virginia Tech 24 FSU 17

Mike: Florida State (+4)

When looking back on this season, it’s incredible that Virginia Tech’s loss to James Madison was being viewed as the deathblow to Boise’s resume (though rightfully so at the time).  Since that loss, Tech has rattled off 10 straight wins en route to an undefeated ACC campaign and they are the clear favorite in this game.  Having said that, there is plenty to like about Florida State under coach Jimbo Fisher, as the Seminoles have sprinted to the finish line after two tough losses.  The ‘Noles will hang tough in Charlotte before eventually succumbing to the superior Hokies.

Virginia Tech 23 Florida State 20

Oklahoma (-4.5) vs. Nebraska

Dan: Oklahoma (-4.5)

Too many injuries for the Huskers. No way Huskers take the Big 12 title on the way out the door.

OU 31 Nebraska 20

Jeremy: Oklahoma (-4.5) – Lock of the Week

Since Taylor Martinez apparently isn’t 100% I’m surprised this line isn’t a bit higher.  The Husker offense was in shambles with Martinez on the sideline.  If he’s not himself, Nebraska is going to have a tough time keeping up with that Sooner offense.

Oklahoma 31  Nebraska 20

Jimmy: Nebraska (+4.5)

Erin Andrews…wow
Loved watching her Dance with Stars
I’d Sooner Husker

Nebraska 45  Oklahoma 44

Matt: Oklahoma (-4.5)

Really a weird year for the Big 12, in that there were no national championship contenders coming out of the conference and Texas was absolutely awful.  Of course this game is chock full of drama and conspiracy theories, as Nebraska fans believe that their team has been given the shaft by Big 12 referees as payback for bolting the conference on such short notice.  How delicious would that frosty trophy presentation be from Commissioner Beebe to Bo Pelini and Tom Osborne. 

Alas, I don’t think it will happen.  Oklahoma has been playing rather stout defense recently (bizarre 4th quarter in Stillwater excluded), and doesn’t Bobby Stoops always seem to win these games?  Nebraska has had minor fires to put out over the last weeks, with Bo’s antics on the sidelines earning him a public scolding from the university president, Carl shoving a credentialed cameraman, and T-Mart waffling on his commitment to the program.  I think Landry Jones to Broyles for a big play happens once or twice despite the presence of All-American Prince Amukamara. 

Oklahoma 25 Nebraska 20

Mike: Oklahoma (-4.5)  Lock of the Week

Having exorcised their road demons, the Sooners are poised for a big finish to this season, which should elevate them to the top of the preseason polls next year with so much returning talent.  By contrast, the Huskers seem to be limping a bit to the finish line, literally and figuratively, as Taylor Martinez has been bothered with an ankle injury.  The ongoing controversies regarding the sideline antics of the brothers Pelini haven’t helped matters, nor has the recent sideline confrontation between Bo Pelini and Martinez.  Look for steady and stable Bob Stoops to earn his seventh Big 12 crown in 12 years.

Oklahoma 35 Nebraska 24

Oregon (-16) at Oregon State

Dan: Oregon (-16)

That is a huge line for a rivalry game. And the Ducks and Beavers seem to play each other tight yea in and year out. But, Oregon just scores too many points.

Oregon 52 Oregon State 31

Jeremy: Oregon (-16)

The Ducks burned me last week, and I know this is the Civil War, but I’m expecting the Chip Kelly Machine to keep chugging right down to the finish line. 

Oregon 44  Oregon St. 24

Jimmy: Oregon (-16)

Quacker or the Beav?
Both better wet. Howard, Don
and Mighty triumph.

Oregon 51  Oregon State 24

Matt: Oregon State (+16)

Probably the toughest line on the board.  The Civil War is usually a battle – one of those “throw the records out the window” type games, but Oregon had their way with a higher ranked Oregon State team two years ago in Corvallis, hanging 65 on the Beavers and denying them a trip to the Rose Bowl.   So it’s not like they can’t win in Corvallis. 
Oregon State has been up and down all year, losing at home to Wazzu but also throttling USC.  I think this game will remain close due to the arm of Ryan Katz and the legs of Quizz Rodgers.  But after getting shutout last week against Stanford, I really don’t have a strong conviction in that pick.

Oregon 47 Oregon State 34

Mike: Oregon State (+16)

One more hurdle to go for Oregon against an inferior foe.  Unfortunately for the Ducks, said foe is a dangerous archrival playing at home with nothing to lose.  This will go right down to the wire but Oregon will find a way to escape.

Oregon 38 Oregon State 35

Connecticut (-2) at South Florida

Dan: UConn (-2)

Yikes. The Big East is terrible. UConn is going to play in a BCS game. What a joke.

UConn 24 USF 17

Jeremy: South Florida (+2)

The Fighting Skippers!  I can’t believe that UCONN is on the verge of going to a BCS game.  Not that WVU would be a better or more-deserving recipient of the bid, but I just can’t fathom the notion that Zach Frazer will be taking snaps in the Orange Bowl.  The Bulls get the upset.

USF 23  UCONN 21

Jimmy: Connecticut (-2)

Are lisps genetic?
Thkip’th Bullth meet their matador
Big Eatht willy suckth

UConn 23  USF 17

Matt: USF (+2)

The biggest game in UConn football history!  A place in the BCS!  A little bit unbelievable for a team that got blown out by Michigan and Temple.  Plus lost to an awful Rutgers team.  But such is life in the Big East, which of course is why TCU is now a member of the conference despite being neither Big or East. 

Having said all of that, I don’t think UConn wins.  They are going to try to impose their will on the USF defense with a healthy dose of Jordan Todman, who Irish fans will remember from that November disaster last year that was the nail in the coffin for Charlie.  But if anyone in the conference is up to the challenge of stopping him, it’s the athletic USF defense.  I fully expect Skip to stuff the box and force Zach Fraser to beat them through the air.  Fraser is barely a 50% passer this year, and has thrown only 5 TD’s.  I don’t think he’s up to the challenge.  Throw in that it is a night game on national tv, and I think the Bulls are on parade.  The Fiesta Bowl will be doing fist pumps long into the night as they avoid the thrill of having UConn and all 2,000 of their fans descend on Phoenix in January.

USF 31 UConn 20

Mike: USF (+2)

Connecticut has put itself into position to win the Big East by pulling out two fluky home wins against Pitt and West Virginia and by feasting on the dregs of the league.  The Huskies, however, are not good enough to close out the conference on the road against an improving and confident South Florida team this week.  B.J. Daniels might not play this week for the Bulls, but I suspect that it will not matter.  A UConn loss, coupled with a certain West Virginia win over Rutgers, means that the Mountaineers will be going to the BCS.  Obviously, that outcome will please whichever bowl is stuck with the Big East representative.

South Florida 29 Connecticut 23

Bonus Picks

Dan: Southern Cal @ UCLA (+6.5)

I just get the feeling the USC will have packed it in for the year. Plus every time we beat someone, they keep losing.

UCLA 23 USC 20

Jimmy: Washington (-6.5) at Washington State

Ass clown with an arm
Locker will danza slap Cougs
Rotten Apple Cup

Washington 31  Washington State 24

Matt: Washington at Washington State (+6.5)

It’s a shame that the Apple Cup has been relegated to such irrelevance, but when two middling west coast teams are battling it out on Championship Saturday, such is life.  I haven’t seen either of these teams play one second this year, but I get the feeling that Wazzu may be slowly, key word sloooooowly, turning the corner.  They picked up their first Pac 10 win in ages this year against Oregon State,  and have quietly gone 6-1 against the spread in their last seven ballgames.  They only lost by 7 to Cal, 10 at Stanford, 17 against Arizona, and 20 against Oregon.  That’s progress in Pullman.  I think they pull off the home upset, despite having a bowl like layoff for this game.   They haven’t strapped on the pads for a real game since November 13th!  That’s insane.  Anyway, go Cougs.

Wazzu 20 Washington 17

Mike: Washington at Washington State (+7.5)

Due to a scheduling quirk, Wazzu has enjoyed back-to-back off weeks prior to this game.  With the extra time to prepare, the Cougs will deliver the final disappointment to Jake Locker’s thoroughly overrated career in Seattle and bring the Apple Cup back to Pullman in the process.

Washington State 24 Washington 21

Last Week:
Dan: 4-3 (+)
Jeremy: 4-3 (-)
Jimmy: 2-5 (-)
Matt: 3-4 (+)
Mike: 4-3 (+)

Dan: 48-40-2 (6-6-1)
Jeremy: 54-34-2 (10-4)
Jimmy: 48-39-3 (8-5)
Matt: 45-42-3 (6-5-1)
Mike: 53-35-2 (10-2-1)

Matt: A couple quick thoughts as we close the book on another great college season.  Since there is no Notre Dame game to pick this week, I need to say, that FINALLY, the streak is over.  Nobody beats Notre Dame nine times in a row!  What an impressive performance by the defense.  Looking back over the season, for whatever reason the turning point was the bye week after the Tulsa loss.  The Irish circled the wagons under Coach Kelly, committed to defense, and have reeled off three straight wins.  (Speaking of defense, something must be in the water in South Bend.  Have you ever seen Mike Brey coached teams committed to defense and rebounding like this year’s team?  Looking forward to the showdown with Big Blue next week.)  A bowl win over a respectable ACC or Big 12 team would be a great stepping stone into the ’11 season.  Job well done Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco for rallying the lads.

I hopped off just before it crashed and burned, but man, was I wrong about Randy Shannon.   I guess when you boil it down, you still need to be a good football coach to win.  You can win all the recruiting battles, graduate all the players, and say all the right things, but if you can’t out X and O the guy across the field, forget about it.  That seems to be the case with Shannon.  There is no shortage of talent in Miami, and that league is there for the taking every single year.  It will be interesting to see who steps up to the challenge of bringing the U back. 

Congrats to ND alum and former coach Mike Haywood, for taking the other Miami from 1-11 to the MAC Championship game.  Maybe the guy can coach after all, huh Charlie?  One of the low points for me of the Weis era was the big guy turning Haywood into a scapegoat and basically heaping the blame on him for the team’s performance, including stripping him of playcalling duties.  Good for Haywood.

Gary Danielson is leading the charge against the little guys getting a shot at the title, and as the best announcer in the business, I take his word seriously.  Honestly, I go back and forth on this one.  Even the breather games in the SEC, like going on the road to Rocky Top or Kentucky or Ole Miss, are not gimmes.  Same with the Big 12 for the most part.  But Boise and TCU get about 5 built in bye weeks a year when they play the likes of the New Mexico schools and Colorado State and other awful football programs.   Good for TCU taking the invite to the Big East, but that doesn’t solve this year’s dilemma should Auburn or Oregon lose on Saturday.  I don’t see it happening, but if it does the voters are going to have to do some serious adjusting to get TCU out of that second spot, and move Wisconsin or Stanford up.  Does anybody really want to see Stanford play for the championship?  They had their shot at Oregon, got destroyed, and can’t sell out their own stadium.  I spent about ten minutes last weekend trying to find Versus on my cable, finally found it, and couldn’t believe that the stadium was literally half full for a games against Oregon State.  People should NOT be surprised when Jim Harbaugh bolts this offseason.

A final thanks to New Mexico and New Mexico State for their efforts this season.  And an apology to my second alma mater Wake Forest for going Pete Rose on you and betting….um, picking, against you all season.  I’ve never ‘picked’ against Notre Dame, but Wake was just too bad to pass up on this year.  Here’s hoping for a great game next November 5th in Winston-Salem when the Irish take on the Demon Deacons. 

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