By the second week of November, it's always pretty easy to tell who the real title contenders are, especially in a year like this one with so many undefeated teams. I'll be ignoring all of those guys in this post, and instead turning our collective attention to the teams right behind them.
These are the schools that have posted impressive records up to this point, but had one or two mistakes along the way. In weeks like these, we find out if those mistakes were merely unfortunate anomalies, or signs of a team's true nature.
Crazy things happen in college football in November, when the mirage of a good team can come tumbling down like a quarterback sacked by Ryan Mueller or weaknesses can appear one Saturday, never to appear again. These five games all have a ranked team against an unranked opponent, but a win seems far from guaranteed, especially when betting against the spread For Entertainment Purposes Only.
Jon led the way last week despite his 4-5-1 record, which he can rightly blame on Miami and Oregon laying enormous eggs, as well as the fact that Texas got the ball first in OT and was thus able to tie the 7-point spread. Meanwhile, I went a miserable 2-7-1 (thank goodness for Vegas' continued mistrust of Mizzou) to fall to 52-48-6 compared to Jon's 62-38-6. If you want to crown him, crown his ass.
CLEMSON (-10.5) over Georgia Tech, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
AA: Clemson has looked more or less back to its old self the past two weeks after getting embarrassed by a very good Florida State team (at home, no less) for the Tigers' only loss of the year. But Georgia Tech is no Maryland or Virginia. Make no mistake about it, this is by far the second-best ACC team Clemson has played. That makes this one sort of tough to gauge, but I think Clemson will come out energized after a bye week (yes, GT had a bye too) and ready for this one. Tigers win, and cover.
JM: Tajh Boyd has definitely shaken off his early-season injury, and while Georgia Tech's record looks nice let's remember that their most impressive win of the year (ignoring margin of victory entirely) is... Duke. The one thing I can't take my mind off here, though, is how Clemson's run defense was able to shut down Andre Williams when the Tigers played Boston College. Devonta Freemen didn't really do much against them when they played Florida State, either. And since we all know what Georgia Tech's offense is... well, Ahearn's right. Take the Tigers to cover.
UCLA (-2.5) over Washington, 8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
AA: Really, the only difference between these two teams is that Washington has already played Arizona St., and UCLA will see the Sun Devils later this month. That's it. Otherwise, they've both beaten a bunch of mediocre or bad teams and lost to Oregon and Stanford. Yet, because of who they are, UCLA is #13 and Washington is unranked. However, you can see Vegas realizes the situation, as this one is pretty much even but for UCLA's home field advantage. I think that will be good enough, and they're even a slightly better team. Take the Bruins to win and cover.
JM: I've sat through an entire Huskies game this year, and they're a solid squad, no question. I have not done the same for UCLA, due to time constraints and scheduling. What I have seen, however, is precisely the sort of thing that frightens me against a team like Washington. UCLA has a tendency to make mistakes. And when you compare their common opponents, it shows. Both in the aggregate and individually, Washington beat the three teams they've both beaten much worse (average of 31 points) than UCLA (18) did; their losses to both Oregon and Stanford (12) were much closer than UCLA's (21). When it's just one common opponent that sticks out like this, it's a fluke. When one team has performed better than the other against five of them across the board, it's evidence. I'm going with the Huskies here.
DUKE (+3) over Miami, 2:30 p.m. ESPNU
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham NC
AA: First of all, let's just take a moment to savor the fact that The U is only favored by a field goal at Duke.....Ahhh, it's a beautiful thing. The Hurricanes suffered a disaster against a reeling Virginia Tech team last week, and they're actually our only favorite playing on the road in this slate of games. Then again, a road game at Duke isn't really a road game, especially during basketball season. Still...the Blue Devils have won 5 in a row, including a game at one Virginia Tech. Could Duke actually crack the top 25 with a win on Saturday. I think we're going to find out. Duke pulls the upset.
JM: Let's get this out of the way: Duke basketball can sit and spin, but there is nothing that would tickle me more than for Duke to end up in the Orange Bowl. Here's the problem, though... yes, Duke beat Virginia Tech 13-10, and that's quite probably their best win of the season. They actually struggled a bit against Memphis. They didn't blow away Virginia, and Virginia's really bad; their other win was NC State, meaning two of their three conference wins are against the two teams in last place in their respective divisions. Navy? Troy? Then again, it's not like Miami's resume is stellar either. Their win against Florida is worth approximately nothing now, so their best win is against Georgia Tech. In the end, I guess I just can't decide here, and since I like chaos... Blue Devils.
Georgia (+4) over AUBURN, 7 p.m., CBS
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn AL
AA: I know Auburn beat A&M and seems to have a pretty good offense, but for some reason I just can't take these Tigers seriously. Their defense is still questionable and I don't really see any standout skill players. Plus, Georgia is basically coming off a bye week after beating up against Appalachian State, so the Bulldogs (and yes, I know they're ranked 24th in the AP so don't technically meet my criteria) should be set to go. They're the better team here, and they're going to pull the upset.
JM: No standout skill players? Son, we're over here busy whining about how we didn't land Nick Marshall, who's got 734 rushing yards and doesn't even lead the team. Georgia's defense is god-awful, and Auburn's actually scoring more points than Georgia's high-powered offense. Georgia's okay against the run, though not great; they're going to have to get great this week because Auburn's got the third-best rushing attack in the nation. War Damn Eagle, and they're gonna cover.
SOUTH CAROLINA (-13.5) over Florida, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Williams Brice-Stadium, Columbia SC
AA: This game has some rather large SEC East title implications. If Sakerlina loses, all Missouri has to do is beat Ole Miss next week for the right to get crushed by Alabama. But if the 'Cocks win, Mizzou will also need to win when Texas A&M comes to town. Based on all of that, I'd expect South Carolina to eke this one out late, then Mizzou beats Ole Miss only to lose tragically to A&M, maybe on a late punt return or something. It's also possible Mizzou wins that game only to lose in the SEC title game and get relegated to the Outback Bowl while South Carolina gets a BCS at-large. Either way, Florida isn't going to lose by 13.5. Pick the Gators to cover.
JM: I dunno... I mean, Florida lost by more than 13.5 to both Missouri and, um, Vanderbilt. Both of whom South Carolina beat. That's not convincing evidence, but it's surely enough not to make any rash assumptions about how it's not going to happen. Also, Florida's defensive reputation this year really was built on the backs of shutting down the likes of Toledo and Kentucky and Arkansas and well you get the idea. Still... I'm hesitant to ever pick an SEC game which doesn't involve either Kentucky or Alabama with this sort of line. So I'm going to have to concur with you here; Gamecocks win but don't cover.
Tomorrow: Jon's selection of games will stun and amaze you. Honest.