With only a couple of weeks left in the season, we need good performances to get back to even. At season’s end, I’ll be posting our overall records in addition to the final Tailgater marks, but for now:
Zach Bigalke: 51-52-2 (4-5)
John Mitchell: 46-57-2 (2-7)
Matt Strobl: 47-55-3 (3-6)
Week 13 Picks
Notre Dame’s season will end today. Either the Irish beat USC and secure a berth in the National Championship game, or they lose to the Trojans and, most likely, see those title hopes go up in smoke. With too many other talented programs nipping at their heels and an overall body of work filled with question marks, the Irish need to impress in their final effort.
Week 13 is rivalry weekend. The Game. The Civil War. Bedlam. The Iron Bowl. The Egg Bowl. The Apple Cup. Florida and Florida State. South Carolina and Clemson. Georgia Tech and Georgia. These are the times that try fans’ souls. Well, okay…that might be a bit of an exaggeration in many of these cases as some the all-time rivalries have been decidedly lopsided of late. Still, even the mismatches bring with them the weight of college football history.
Here’s what the Tailgater crew is predicting in college football this week. Rankings are according to the AP Top 25 poll. All times are eastern. All picks are against the spread as defined by Yahoo! Sports’ final lines.
Saturday, 12:00 PM. Columbus, OH
Michigan Wolverines @ Ohio State Buckeyes (-3.5)
Strobl: Even after all these I’m still not quite sure what we have in Columbus. Yes, the Buckeyes are 11-0 in Urban Meyer’s first season. Frankly, that thrills me. Because if he can go unbeaten this far into the season with mostly underclassmen and mostly players that he didn’t recruit, imagine what he’s likely to do once he gets the program rolling his way. But focusing on the present, OSU still has a lot of holes. Games against Michigan State and Wisconsin came down to the wire on the road while home games against Nebraska and Penn State were far easier. In fact, with the notable exception of the near-disaster versus Purdue, the Bucks have looked strong in the Horseshoe. On the other side, Michigan is playing as well as it has all year, probably because it is a more dangerous and dynamic team with Devin Gardner under center. When these two programs meet in college football’s greatest rivalry, anything can happen, and therefore I’m inclined to predict a close game. That, and I’m stupidly superstitious when it comes to Ohio State. I’d rather pick against them and have them win than get cocky and be laid low for the sin of the pride. Go Bucks, but I’ll hedge here to say that 3.5 is too big. PICK: Michigan
Mitchell: This game got even more interesting the last few weeks with the emergence of Devin Gardner at QB for the Wolverines. Gardner has made three straight starts for Michigan and has looked very good in leading them to three wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. Of course, the undefeated Buckeyes will provide a step up in competition for Gardner and company, it is still impressive what he has done after playing wide receiver for the first half of the season. As good as Gardner has been, Braxton Miller has been better for Ohio State in leading them to an 11-0 mark as they look to finish Urban Meyer’s first regular season without a blemish on their resume. Miller has over 1800 passing yards and over 1200 rushing yards this season with 27 touchdowns. With both offenses seemingly in stride, look for this to be a bit of a high scoring affair, with the Buckeyes coming out on top by a touchdown at the ‘Shoe. PICK: Ohio State
Bigalke: An undefeated Buckeyes team faces Shoelace one last time. Where he’ll play is another question. Yet, despite playing at home against a Michigan team with three more losses, Ohio State is favored by less than a touchdown. Vegas continues to doubt Urban Meyer’s crew, but they’re going to become just the second team (after 1993 Auburn) to finish undefeated while on NCAA probation. PICK: Ohio State
Saturday, 3:00 PM. Corvallis, OR
Oregon Ducks @ Oregon State Beavers (+9.5)
Strobl: I think that Oregon had its stumble. As I wrote in recapping week 12, the Ducks seems to have one game a year against a quality opponent in which business as usual (i.e. 50 points per game) fails. Stanford presents a dominant defensive front that clearly befuddled Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner, and although the Beavers are a talented team in their own right, I don’t think they have the defensive stopping power to match the Cardinal’s feat. PICK: Oregon
Mitchell: I really like this Oregon State team, but they drew the short end of the stick this week against a very pissed off Oregon team that will be looking to make a big statement against the rival Beavers in the Civil War in hopes of impressing the pollsters in what could be their final game before postseason play unless Stanford loses to UCLA. A Cardinal victory over the Bruins would keep the Ducks out of the Pac-12 Championship Game, and keep them silent on the final weekend of the season before bowl selection. Much like Stanford, Oregon State’s defense could cause some problems for the Oregon offense, but I find it hard to believe that Chip Kelly will be tamed in back to back weeks. I think this one will be close for a while until Oregon pulls away for a two touchdown win over their bitter rivals. PICK: Oregon
Bigalke: Stanford turned this year’s Civil War into an afterthought with back-to-back defeats of the Beavers and Ducks, but this year’s game in Corvallis still has serious implications. After winning their first ten games, Oregon could miss a BCS berth altogether if they lose a second straight. Both teams have offensive weapons; the Ducks’ stars are better-known, but Oregon State can score too. Who survives a shootout? PICK: Oregon
Saturday, 3:30 PM. Tallahassee, FL
Florida Gators @ Florida State Seminoles (-7.5)
Strobl: The way Florida has been playing, I’m inclined to lean FSU in this one. The way FSU has been playing, I’m inclined to ignore my own advice. The bottom line is that neither one of these programs has turned out consistently good efforts this year, and recent narrow victories over Louisiana Lafayette (UF) and Virginia Tech (FSU) were merely the latest struggles for the Sunshine State’s top powers. Given the Tallahassee venue and the Gators’ offensive woes, I’d pick the Seminoles to win if the spread wasn’t in play. But however this one ends up, I suspect it will be within a touchdown. PICK: Florida
Mitchell: I like Florida State to win this one with how poorly the Gators have played in recent weeks, but 7.5 seems excessive with the fact that Florida State hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in recent weeks. Both teams are 10-1, with Florida having more quality wins on the resume than the rival Seminoles, but the Gators haven’t been the same team they were earlier in the season ever since they collapsed in Jacksonville against Georgia and cost themselves the Eastern Division Championship. Since then, Florida has uninspiring wins over Missouri, UL Lafayette, and Jacksonville State. I’m expecting this game to be a defensive dominant affair, and as aforementioned, Florida State probably comes out on top in Tallahassee, but with points likely at a premium, I don’t see the ‘Noles winning by more than a touchdown. PICK: Florida
Bigalke: This rivalry is finally relevant once again, with both the Gators and Seminoles in the top ten and hoping to slide through the back door into the national title game. This game features two of the five best defenses n the entire country. Whether any team will muster points is the real question. Florida State is giving seven and a half… which should be fine, considering this ain’t the Fun ‘n’ Gun offense they’ll be facing. PICK: Florida State
Saturday, 3:30 PM. Norman, OK
Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Oklahoma Sooners (-7)
Strobl: After watching the Sooners’ defense get slapped around by West Virginia, I’m fairly disgusted with the Big 12. Year after year, we see outstanding offensive performances but they always come with the same question. Is what we’re witnessing due primarily to the league’s lack of good defensive play? Last Saturday in Morgantown the answer was a resounding yes. Earlier in the season, Teas Tech and Kansas State boasted impressive defenses but recent events have undone whatever progress those programs had seemingly made. Ditto for OU. As for the Cowboys, their strength has always been on the offensive side of the ball. I’m expecting another Big 12 shootout this week in Bedlam, and I like OSU’s odds of staying within a score (or winning outright). PICK: Oklahoma State
Mitchell: Everybody keeps pointing toward last year’s Bedlam game when Oklahoma State flat out embarrassed Oklahoma as to why the Sooners are going to win this game. They are pointing out the extra motivation for Oklahoma to avenge last year’s defeat. I’m not buying it. I’ve watched both of these teams play recently, and you would be hard pressed to find another team in the conference that is playing better than Oklahoma State right now. The Sooners, on the other hand, have consecutive close wins over Baylor and West Virginia. Give Mike Gundy credit, his Pokes have gotten better each week and they are a far cry from the bunch that lost by three touchdowns in Tuscon earlier this year. I think Oklahoma State keeps this game within a touchdown in a shootout, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Gundy gets the better of Stoops again this year. PICK: Oklahoma State
Bigalke: Has everyone faced the reality that the Sooners just aren’t elite this season? Oklahoma is favored by a touchdown against the Pokes… but they don’t call this rivalry Bedlam for no good reason. We saw West Virginia run roughshod over the Sooner defense last week, only losing because they couldn’t contain Landry Jones and his crew. Oklahoma State has another high-test offense, but they can play D as well. PICK: Oklahoma State
Saturday, 3:30 PM. Tuscaloosa, AL
Auburn Tigers @ Alabama Crimson Tide (-33)
Strobl: This is a monster spread for the Iron Bowl. I’m not a native Alabaman nor a historian of the state’s biggest rivalry, but my first thought upon seeing this line was that it must be the biggest in the game’s history. Auburn is a terrible team, now embroiled in yet another NCAA investigation. Alabama just got a reprieve and needs only to beat the Tigers then Georgia to return to the National Championship. Of course, Auburn would love to play spoiler…so I’m pretty sure there will be a wee bit of extra motivation piled on top of the already raging dislike these two have for one another. The trouble is that only one of them has talent to back that up. PICK: Alabama
Mitchell: Auburn is really lousy. Usually a 33 point spread in a rivalry game would have been taking the points and not looking back. Not in this one. Not this time. When I say Auburn is lousy, I mean they are historically with this being one of the worst Auburn teams in quite some team. They’ve been an abomination on the field this year, and it looks all the more likely every week that Gene Chizik will not be the Tigers head coach when the season kicks off in 2013. Alabama is simply better in all faces of the game. They should invoke their will on the Auburn defense, and I don’t expect freshman Jonathan Wallace to have much success, if any, against the Alabama defense. Due respect to Wallace, but he isn’t exactly Johnny Manziel. However, it is the Iron Bowl, and strange thins tend to happen in this rivalry game, but there is simply too much on the line for Alabama to slip up now because a slip up would mean the Crimson Tide wouldn’t even make it to Atlanta for their highly anticipated matchup with Georgia. ,I don’t see this game being very close, and as long as Alabama doesn’t make mistakes like last year and giftwrap points, scoring will be hard to come by, if it does, for the Tigers. PICK: Alabama
Bigalke: My, what a difference two years makes. The Iron Bowl looks lopsided, with Alabama looking to get the benefit of the doubt in the BCS race and Auburn just looking for an SEC win. The Tide are favored by 33; and while I’m normally not inclined to give Gene Chizik any credit, he can likely hold the line within five touchdowns given the fact Bama hasn’t looked unbeatable in recent weeks. PICK: Auburn
Saturday, 6:30 PM. Pasadena, CA
Stanford Cardinal @ UCLA Bruins (+2)
Strobl: This is a unique game, the particulars of which John discusses below. For me, it’s enough to know that not only is Stanford the better team, but the Cardinal have much more on the line than do the Bruins. Of course, that pressure could backfire and end in a UCLA win, but somehow I doubt it. Stanford, as a team, had ice in its veins at Eugene. I have no reason to think anything will be different this week. PICK: Stanford
Mitchell: UCLA has quite the Catch-22 on their hands this weekend. The Bruins officially clinched the Pac-12′s South Division last week with a win over USC, so this game against Stanford is virtually meaningless in terms of their hopes of getting to the Rose Bowl. A loss wouldn’t really hurt them all that much. UCLA has the power to dictate their opponent in next week’s Pac-12 Championship Game. If they beat Stanford, then Oregon lies ahead of them as long as the Ducks take care of business against Oregon State. If they lose, then Stanford wins the Pac-12 North and the two teams will have a rematch next week. Don’t you think UCLA would rather face Stanford with a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line than Oregon? I know I would. Plus, I love the way the Cardinal have been playing lately, especially on defense, and even in Los Angeles I think they get their third straight win over a Top-25 opponent an inch one step closer to Pasadena. PICK: Stanford
Bigalke: If Stanford wins, they’ll host a rematch with the Bruins in the Pac-12 championship in Palo Alto next week. A Stanford loss sends the Bruins to Eugene next weekend. UCLA is in the Pac-12 championship no matter what, a testament to the difference a coach can make. At first glance, the Cardinal should be able to repeat the clampdown of last weekend. But the fact Vegas favors Stanford by just 2 points has me leaning… PICK: UCLA
Saturday, 7:00 pm. Clemson, SC
South Carolina Gamecocks @ Clemson Tigers (-4)
Strobl: Ah, that fourth point. If the spread had been a field goal I may have considered picking Clemson (ok, maybe not), but getting beyond three made this one easier. Both of these teams excel in disappointing; I can’t recall a recent season in which one, the other, or both failed to live up to the ever-present offseason hype. Right now, Clemson is riding some momentum in the polls, having suffered only one loss. At the time, falling to the Seminoles seemed respectable enough, but FSU hasn’t seemed all that great lately. How does that reflect on the Tigers? It’s uncertain, but a win over the rival Gamecocks would eliminate any lingering doubts. Pulling that off, however, won’t be easy. PICK: South Carolina
Mitchell: Why is everyone so high on Clemson here lately? The Tigers have played one good team all year long and lost on the road by two scores. Since that loss to Florida State, Clemson has reeled off 7 wins in a row, but their marquee win in that stretch is a toss-up between Georgia Tech and NC State. The Gamecocks haven’t been the same on offense since Marcus Lattimore’s injury, but this is still a very good football team that boasts a Top-15 defense led by All American Jadeveon Clowney. Clemson’s offense has been spectacular with Tajh Boyd leading the charge, but they haven’t seen a defense as talented as South Carolina’s yet this year. It also doesn’t help that Steve Spurrier has had Dabo Swinney’s number. Chalk another one up for the Ol’ Ball Coach as the Gamecocks beat the Tigers for the fourth year in a row. PICK: South Carolina
Bigalke: If Marcus Lattimore was playing in this game, I’d give the Gamecocks a chance to pull off the upset. Instead, even defensive star Jadeveon Clowney is banged up, suffering a sprained foot that kept him out of last week’s Wofford game. Clemson just keeps turning up new skill stars, and QB Tajh Boyd continues to get it to those burners to eviscerate defenses. The Tigers easily cover four points… EASILY. PICK: Clemson
Saturday, 8:00 PM. Los Angeles, CA
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ USC Trojans (+5.5)
Strobl: If Notre Dame makes it to the National Championship Game, the Irish may well be the weakest, least deserving team ever to do so. Week to week, Notre Dame lived and died on a handful of plays, beating Michigan by 7 and barely besting Purdue (20-17), BYU (17-14), Stanford (20-13), and Pitt (29-26). That Stanford win required overtime and help from the officials. Th Pitt win required repeated unforced breakdowns by the Panthers. If not for the unexpectedly effective win at Oklahoma, would any of us have any confidence in Notre Dame at all? That being said, USC is fielding a completely untested QB and the Irish have, for good or ill, play to the level of their competition all season long. I’ll be rooting for the Trojans, which nauseates me because I really don’t care for Lane Kiffin. But with the spread under a touchdown, I have to go ND here. PICK: Notre Dame
Mitchell: This spread dropped from 7 down to 5.5 despite the money going toward Notre Dame, so that scares me a bit in this one. If Matt Barkley were playing, this spread would be even tighter and I might even be tempted to pick the Trojans. But, he’s not, and Max Wittek will be making his first career start against one of the premier defenses in all of college football. Of course, USC with Wittek at quarterback is still better than Pittsburgh, a team that took the Irish to three overtimes before finally losing. Both teams have been woefully inconsistent this year, with Notre Dame just happening to have survived what should have been two losses. The Trojans, on the other hand, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and preseason #1 will finish the regular season 7-5 unless they can pull the upset on Saturday. Don’t bank on that happening. PICK: Notre Dame
Bigalke: I know what I’d like to see happen; the more chaos at the end of a season, the better. USC, despite losing four Pac-12 games this year, still has the offensive talent to seriously challenge the Irish defense for four quarters. And Notre Dame has survived with remedial competency from its own offense. This is a game ND should win… which means we’ll probably see Trojans dancing around the Coliseum on Saturday night. PICK: USC
Picks of the Week: Our Favorite Point Spreads
Strobl: Texas Tech (+3.5) over Baylor
What a difference one game makes. Baylor, the epitome of mediocrity through ten games, upset Kansas State and is suddenly favored on the road. Sure, Texas Tech has looked lousy of late, but not only are the Bears giving points in Lubbock, they’re giving more than a field goal. I’m not willing to say that Baylor has turned a corner just yet. Maybe week 12′s win was no fluke, but it will take more than one victory to convince me of that.
Mitchell: Mississippi (-1.5) over Mississippi State
At first glance, this spread probably confuses you. How can an 8-3 Mississippi State team be 1.5 point underdogs against a 5-6 Ole Miss team on the road in an Egg Bowl. It doesn’t make sense. A lot is on the line for the Rebels in this game as they need a win over their rivals to get to bowl eligibility in Hugh Freeze’s first year as head coach. Freeze has done a terrific job in Oxford this year, and a win over Mississippi State would be a perfect way to finish the regular season and get Colonel Reb into a much deserved bowl game. I think Ole Miss is peaking at the right time, and even though they lost last week, they played better than they have in two years in Baton Rouge against LSU as they suffered a narrow six point defeat. Mississippi State got back into the win column last week after three straight losses, but they do not have the vastly superior team in this game, and I think the better head coach will be one the home sideline this week. The Rebels’ up-tempo offense should cause a plethora of problems for the Bulldogs defense, and Hugh Freeze and company should gain bowl eligibility this week.
Bigalke: Rutgers (+2) over Pittsburgh
Weird things happen when the Panthers play, sure. We saw them knock off West Virginia on the cusp of a national title bid in 2007. But Pitt is simply abysmal this year; other than the “upset” of an overrated Virginia Tech team, Chryst’s team has done nothing of note in 2012. Rutgers, on the other hand, boasts one of the nation’s top defenses and could lock up the school’s first BCS bid with wins in the next two weeks.
Join us in the coming weeks as Tailgater continues to present its weekly picks and previews along with reactions to the best and worst of what college football has to offer.