It's Thursday and you know what that means: For the final time this season (well, until bowl season anyway) it's time to make some college football picks. And it's time to end the season in style!
After a tough, middle stretch of the season we are in fact riding into this weekend in style, with four winning weeks out of our last five (and the one week we weren't winners, we were a goal line stand from A&M from accomplishing the feat). So yeah, we're hot and going to keep it that way into the final weekend.
So with that said, let's get to the picks. But before we do, two quick reminders:
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Alright, enough non-sense, let's get to the picks. I have picks for all five major conference championship games, plus two others this weekend. LETS DO THIS!!!
Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon (+3.5) at No. 13 USC - Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX
Remember the Pac-12? Heard of them? Bunch of schools on the West Coast who play sports and used to be pretty good at stuff. Sound familiar?
Well apparently they are playing this weekend too. Who knew?
In all seriousness, I love Oregon getting a field goal and change here. The bottom line is they actually got an incredible break over the last few weeks or so, first getting last week's game against Washington cancelled - which at the time cost them a shot at winning the division - only to have Washington opt out of this game because of covid issues. It also means that not only do they get to play for a league title, but got a week to rest, and are now expected to have their best wide receiver (Devon Williams), running back (CJ Verdell) and linebacker (Noah Sewell) after each dealt with various injuries in recent weeks.
Also, USC's luck has to run out at some point, right? Yes, they're 5-0, but in an incredible stat that I can't even believe I'm typing, USC has won three of their games... when trailing in the final two minutes.
Not at halftime.
Not going into the fourth quarter.
They've trailed three times in the final two minutes of games this year. And won all three. I would LOVE to know the odds on that.
The Ducks are the best team the Trojans have faced all year, and I'm rolling with Oregon.
Big Ten Championship Game: No. 14 Northwestern vs. No. 4 Ohio State (UNDER 56.5): Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX
Ahh, the first real game that matters this weekend, as Ohio State tries to get a win, which would all but clinch their spot in the playoff. I guess in theory Texas A&M could win by 60 and make their case, but if Ohio State wins it feels like they're in.
And while I think they win, I do see them getting a tough challenge from Northwestern, which probably has the most complete defense they'll see all year. That's why I'm staying away from the spread of right around three touchdowns. I could see Ohio State winning 34-3 or 24-10. Nothing would really surprise me in this one, other than an outright Northwestern upset.
So instead, I'm going to roll with the UNDER. The bottom line is that again, Northwestern will be the best defense Ohio State has seen all year, and I think they can force at least a few punts from the Buckeyes. On the flip side, the Wildcats are a one-dimensional team on offense - they run the ball well, but that plays right into Ohio State's strengths. The Buckeyes can be exposed through the secondary, but since Northwestern can't throw the ball, I just can't see them scoring all that much here.
Take the best defense Ohio State has played all year, and a defense perfectly suited to stop what Northwestern does well, and I don't think we see all that many points.
The UNDER is the play here.
Big 12 Championship Game: No. 10 Oklahoma (-5.5) vs. No. 6 Iowa State (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC)
Look, we all love Iowa State. They're a great story. And this pick isn't really even a knock on them. I think they're a legitimately good football team. But what does it say about the team that the committee has deemed the sixth best team in the country that they're nearly a touchdown underdog in this game?
We all know what it means. Iowa State is good. Not elite.
To be clear, yes I understand that Iowa State beat the Sooners earlier in the season. But Oklahoma was also without its best offensive weapon Rhamondre Stevenson, who is averaging almost 100 yards rushing and 12 yards per catch, in the four games he's played this season. It's made Spencer Rattler more comfortable, and overall, the Sooners have now won six in a row, including five in a row by two scores since then. It's also worth noting that their defense - maligned for years - has given up 14 points or fewer in four of its last five as well. Maybe part of that is simply that the Big 12 isn't all that good that year, but it's impressive none the less.
Again, Iowa State is a great story. But Oklahoma will be your Big 12 champ come Saturday afternoon.
ACC Championship Game: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (+10.5): Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, ABC
I'm just going to be totally honest here: This line makes no sense to me at all. Maybe I'm a total square and I'll be made to look like a fool come Saturday night (trust me, it's happened before). But I just don't see how or why Notre Dame is a double-digit dog here.
And before we go any further, yes, I heard the big, breaking news that Trevor Lawrence didn't play in the first game between these two teams. So please spare me. At the same time, Notre Dame didn't win because Trevor Lawrence didn't play. They won because the offense did whatever they wanted against Clemson's defense, and because they dominated the line of scrimmage on defense. Now yes, Clemson's defense has gotten healthier since that game, but they still gave up over 500 yards of total offense. And Clemson's offense averaged one yard per rush against the Irish front.
One yard per rush!
Frankly, I find it interesting that while everyone has focused on "What happens if Notre Dame gets blown out in this game" no one has really taken the time to ponder "What happens if Clemson loses?" (I actually think you could make the argument that their resume is still more impressive than an 8-1 Texas A&M team, but that's just me).
We'll save that argument for Saturday night. But I do expect this one to be closer than Vegas expects.
SEC Championship Game: No. 7 Florida vs. No. 1 Alabama (-18.5): Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Considering the Rose Bowl won't really be the Rose Bowl this year with no fans, can I present calling the SEC title game the "Granddaddy of them All" for this year? It has the best team and maybe the most intriguing "What if" of Championship Saturday, which is "What if Florida wins?" Would they then jump Ohio State into the Top 4?
That is a question that will be moot however, because I think Alabama rolls here. Why am I so confident? Because Alabama has literally rolled against everyone all season long.
Look, I know everyone is playing the "Florida has nothing to lose" card here, but I just don't buy it. Alabama is simply on a mission, unlike frankly, just about any team I've ever seen before. Against an SEC-only schedule they still managed to have a Top 5 offense nationally, while also vastly improving on defense throughout the year, ending as the No. 1 defense in college basketball. As I've argued the last few weeks, I think you can legitimately argue, this was Alabama's most dominant team ever under Nick Saban (at least to this point).
Just for some context, here is a crazy stat: Bama has led by at least two touchdowns at halftime of each of its last six games, and by at least 24 in five of those games. Yes, you read that correctly: In five of their last six games they've led... at HALFTIME by at least 24 points.
This team is a machine the likes of which we've maybe never seen, and I don't think it slows down Saturday against Florida.
Other games on Saturday's card:
Ole Miss (-2.5) at LSU: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Serious question: What does it tell you that, coming off a win against a Top 5 team, on the road, LSU is still a 2.5 point favorite at home? It means Vegas feels the exact same way about LSU's win last week as you do: It was fluky. Really fun to watch, but fluky.
Yes, Ole Miss is coming off an extended break for quarantine, which worries me a little bit. But this offense is just too explosive, against an LSU defense that isn't very good, especially against the run.
Minnesota at Wisconsin (OVER 47): Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
In its last three games, Wisconsin has scored seven, six and seven points. Which probably leads many of you to wonder: "How the hell can you take the OVER in this one?"
Well, it's simple really: Wisconsin is coming off playing three of the four best defenses in the Big Ten in the last three weeks, in Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa. Minnesota on the other hand, is abysmal.
While the Gophers have gotten somewhat better of late, they are still allowing a staggering seven yards per play on defense, which ranks them 124th out of 127 teams that have played college football this season (only LSU, Vanderbilt and Akron are worse). And I think that the Badgers take out a season's worth of frustration on them.
Add in the fact that Minnesota probably has the best passing attack all season, and I think this number goes *well* over, somewhere in the neighborhood of a 34-20 Wisconsin win, and an OVER in this one.
MAC Championship Game: Ball State vs. Buffalo (-14), Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET: Buffalo is one of the best stories in college football, rolling to a 5-0 mark in the MAC, averaging a staggering 51 points per game. What makes it crazier is, they really don't have much of a passing game, ranking just 110th nationally in passing. So yeah, I like the Bulls. But at some point, someone will take away the run game and make them beat you through the air, right?
No. 5 Texas A&M (-14) at Tennessee, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: I watched the entire Tennessee-Vanderbilt game last weekend, and while the score would tell you otherwise, the Vols still don't have a passing game to speak of. Because of it, I think the Aggies roll. But, they just aren't the type of team to win games by big scores, and on the road, in a tight situation I could see this one being closer than anticipated. Aggies win, it's just a question of how much.
No. 23 Tulsa vs. No. 9 Cincinnati (-14), 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: My heart says "Cincinnati is going to be mad about the playoff rankings and win by 40 points to prove the committee wrong here." My head says "They are coming off two full weeks of quarantine and are playing the best defense they'll face all year. I'd lean Cincinnati, but I don't love it.
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