It's the final weekend before the far-too-long bowl season begins, and as usual, the slate is much more abut quality than quantity. Things could hardly have worked out better for the Big 12 as it goes head-to-head with conference championships thanks to two games pivotal to the Big 12 title race.
Meanwhile, as many as five teams (well, realistically only 4) still have a shot at the BCS National Championship game during what should be an incredible weekend of football. It's a busy week in the real world, too, so this will be the only time this week Jon and I give you some games to watch with picks, For Entertainment Purposes only, of course.
Sadly, I get no bonus points for picking Auburn to actually win and so my disappointing 4-6 week dropped me to 72-58-6 overall. Jon didn't do a lot better, but his 5-5 week gives him a seemingly insurmountable lead at 77-53-6, unless this feature continues into bowl season.
Northern Illinois (-3) over Bowling Green, 7 p.m. Friday, ESPN2
Ford Field, Detroit MI
AA: The MAC championship might give us a nice little appetizer for a superb Saturday. Or it could be just another rout for a team that has won every game by at least 18 points since a 27-20 win over Akron on Oct. 12. It's kind of interesting that Bowling Green beat that same Akron team by 17, and both Jon and I seriously underestimated the Falcons last week. Still, three points is an awfully small line, and should be a relatively easy cover for NIU. BCS bound?
JM: Bowling Green is a decent team. They're not a great one, though, and this Northern Illinois team has been here before with the BCS on the line. Last year, they were in a winner-take-all game as Kent State would have gone bowling for Oranges with a win. This year, the conference needs them. Huskies cover, easily, as Jordan Lynch makes his final Heisman case of the season.
OKLAHOMA STATE (-10) over Oklahoma, 11 a.m. ABC
That Rich Oil Guy Stadium, Stillwater OK
AA: Unless for some reason you want to see if UCF can complete its undefeated run in the AAC, Bedlam should be a great way to start your day. Oklahoma State has looked pretty much invincible since struggling to put away TCU six games ago, and Clint Chelf appeared to have transformed into an elite quarterback against Baylor. However, college football seems to have a way of always bringing things back to the mean, and I think this is that week for the Cowboys. Fortunately for them, OU isn't that good, so OSU will still win, but I think the Sooners cover.
JM: If there's one thing I know for sure about recent Bedlam games, it's that you can never just look at the two teams and decide to expect what you should expect. The Cowboys should beat the Sooners by two scores. They won't. Sooners cover.
BAYLOR (-13.5) over Texas, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Floyd Casey Stadium, Waco TX
AA: Baylor has had some serious issues on both sides of the ball the past two weeks, but the biggest problems have been in the pass defense. If not for two gift touchdowns from Casey Pachall (not to mention a butt fumble) TCU would have won last week. But on the other hand, Case McCoy is not nearly as good as Pachall or Chelf, which is not exactly the highest of bars. For that reason, and the fact that it's Senior Day for a spectacular season in Waco, I'm taking Baylor to cover a 13.5 point spread for the second week in a row.
JM: Tough one. Baylor, of course, has a potential BCS berth on the line here even with an Oklahoma State win in Stillwater. Should the Cowboys lose, Baylor's looking at a guaranteed win -- and the horrifying prospect of allowing Texas to go to the Fiesta Bowl with a loss. Still... at the same time, Texas is potentially putting the cherry on top of Mack Brown's salvation here. I think Baylor's going to win, but I think this game's going to come down to the wire. Longhorns cover.
Missouri (+1.5) over Auburn, 4 p.m. CBS
Georgia Dome, Atlanta GA
AA: Listen, there's a good chance that the college football gods simply aren't going to let Auburn lose again this season. It wouldn't surprise me if Gus Malzahn was some sort of magician. But I'm choosing to believe that Auburn's luck will eventually run out, and the better team will prevail. Missouri has the SEC's best rush defense, and Auburn's quarterback still can't actually pass very well. Missouri wins its second SEC title of the fall, but probably has less of a chance to win a national title than the volleyball team.
JM: I just can't get behind a team who has (a) lost to LSU by two touchdowns and (b) has escaped to win two games on absolutely absurd plays which never ever ever happen and are almost entirely luck-based. Well, one was entirely luck-based; the other depended on luck in the sense that it required Nick Saban to lose his damned mind. Tigers win, and I mean the yellow and black ones.
Stanford (+3) over Arizona State, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe AZ
AA: Yes, Arizona State finished with a better record and has a nice seven-game win streak going right now. That even includes a somewhat impressive 38-33 win at UCLA. Still, Stanford always seems to play well in the big games and seems to have more talent. Plus, Arizona State lost at Stanford by two touchdowns in a game where the Sun Devils won the fourth quarter 21-3. So why are they the favorites in this one? Stanford wins by more than a touchdown.
JM: They're the favorites because the season turned around for them right there at the end of the third quarter of that game in Palo Alto. The reality here is that the anomaly in the Sun Devils' season was the first three quarters of that Stanford loss. This team is on fire, and Stanford has been mortal of late. Sun Devils win, and cover -3.
Florida State (-29) over Duke, 7 p.m., ABC
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte NC
AA: This has to be the biggest line ever in a conference championship game, right? We all know Florida State is going to win this football game, and they're probably going to do it comfortably. But that doesn't mean they'll win by four touchdowns. Maybe the Jameis Winston investigation will have an effect, or maybe I just think a big part of this line is because it's tradition-rich Florida State vs. well, Duke football. Either way, I just feel like the Blue Devils are going to find a way to cover.
JM: Duke's going to cover, yes. But not by much. This isn't a case like 2003 where K-State legitimately had a shot at Oklahoma. Florida State is just too good, and while I will do absolutely nothing to take away from Duke's stellar season, the fact remains that they simply haven't really beaten anyone, and haven't dominated either. Seminoles cover.
Ohio State (-5.5) over Michigan State, 7:17 p.m., FOX
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis IN
AA: Of course the Big Ten would schedule its championship game to start at 7:17. What a stupid conference. Does anyone even know which one of these teams won the Legends division and which one won the Leaders? I sure as hell don't, because those names are terrible. As much as I'd love to see Sparty wreck everything for the B1G and give Mizzou a path to the national championship game, I just don't really see it happening. Michigan State's defense will start strong but eventually falter with no support from its pathetic excuse for an offense, and Urban Meyer will continue to piss off his family by getting more evidence that never going home actually works*. In reality, the B1G just sucks. Buckeyes cover.
*I am aware of the possible hypocrisy in saying this as a devoted Bill Snyder fan, but I'm choosing to ignore it and you should, too.
JM: Remember last week, when you laughed at me about Michigan playing the Buckeyes close? Yeah, buddy. I freely confess that this pick is as much about loathing as it is about anything else, but I think Sparty's ridonkulous defense shuts down the Ohio State attack -- and we already know that the Buckeye defense is not exactly world-class. Sparty covers.