Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 10/22/14
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What a week 13.  Congratulations are in order for John Mitchell, who had the first perfect week of the year.  Seth Doege’s unlikely interception-filled performance, worsened by some unfortunate tipped balls, spoiled my bid at a one-loss week, and with the season’s final set of games approaching we’re all vying for that .500 mark: Zach Bigalke: 54-58-2 (3-6) John Mitchell: 55-57-2 (9-0) Matt Strobl: 54-57-3 (7-2) ***** Week 14 Picks Conference championships are already upon us.  It’s hard to believe that the college football season is almost over, but here we are on the cusp of December with BCS berths and bowl appearances hanging in the balance.  Due to all the actual and de facto title games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we’re posting a little early and excluding our personal picks of the week in favor of some additional key matchups.  We offer ten picks this week. 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 with the exception of Louisville at Rutgers. Thursday, 7:00 PM. Detroit, MI. MAC Championship Louisville Cardinals @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-3.5)   Strobl: I don’t think the top of any conference has looked as bad in recent week as has the Big East.  Rutgers, which started the season strong, has become a plodding squad that can’t seem to find enough points, scoring 16 total in the past two weeks.  Louisville has been living on the edge all year long and finally fell off of it in recent weeks, first against Syracuse then against versus UConn.  Remember too that the Cardinals barely scraped by the likes of Southern Miss (21-17) and South Florida (27-25).  Yet, as awful as both these teams look at the moment, someone has to win.  Will it be the resistible force, or the movable object?  Though it’s basically a toss-up, I’ll go with Rutgers at home.  A bad offense with a good defense should top a bad offense with a mediocre defense.  That half-point is bothering me a lot, but I’ll stick with the Knights.  PICK: Rutgers   Mitchell: Vegas sees this game as a toss-up, with Rutgers getting the customary three points because they are the home team. Louisville started the season 9-0, but have lost their last two games to Syracuse and Connecticut. Rutgers has two losses as well, with one coming to Kent State and the other coming last week by three touchdowns against Pittsburgh. One of these teams will get a very unworthy berth into a BCS bowl game because somehow this league still gets an automatic bid. I think the Cardinals have the better team, but Rutgers’ defense will pose problems for Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. In this kind of game, I am normally tempted to pick the home team, but for whatever reason my gut is telling me that Louisville will get it done and win the Big East Title.  PICK: Louisville   Bigalke: The Cardinals are 3.5-point favorites as they head to Piscataway with the Big East’s penultimate guaranteed BCS berth on the line. Louisville brings a more explosive offense into the contest, but Rutgers has fielded a top-15 defense. This is a classic case study in which side of the ball wins championships in 2012. Vegas says it is offense that will rule the day, but I’ve got a feeling the home side is coming out ahead in the end.  PICK: Rutgers   Friday, 7:00 PM. Detroit, MI. MAC Championship Northern Illinois Huskies @ Kent State Golden Flashes (+6.5)   Strobl: When it comes to MAC football, everyone is talking about Kent State.  The Golden Flashes’ win over Rutgers put them on the nation’s radar and rightfully so; the team has been playing extremely well of late.  In contrast, Northern Illinois is getting relatively little attention despite having an identical 11-1 record (8-0 in MAC play).  Prior to last season the Huskies took on a new coach after Jerry Kill’s departure to Minnesota.  Dave Doren had to pick up the pieces of a team that lost in the MAC title game, and he did so by engineering a 9-3 campaign that finished with a comeback MAC Championship win over Ohio.  Now Doren has the Huskies on the verge of another league victory.  The team that wins this matchup is likely to earn a BCS berth as an at-large team, and Vegas appears to think it will be UNI.  Despite Kent State being the majority pick, the line has actually moved further in favor of the Huskies (red flag #1).  And despite the attention focused on Kent State, it’s UNI that holds a statistical edge in key categories (red flag #2).  Finally, this is UNI’s third consecutive championship appearance and Doren’s second, so there may be less pressure and fewer jitters on the Huskies sideline than on the Flashes’.  PICK: Northern Illinois   Mitchell: I’m going to trust Vegas on this one because this line feels entirely too high considering Kent State enters the game as the higher ranked team, and a team that is potentially playing for a BCS Bowl berth on Friday. You have to admire how good Kent State has been this year, save for that 33 point loss to Kentucky. Since losing that game, the Golden Flashes reeled off ten consecutive wins, including an upset of then 15th ranked Rutgers in late October. The Huskies, on the other hand, have won 11 straight games after losing to Iowa by one point in the season opener. As good as Kent State has been the Flashes have quite the one dimensional offense with a strong ground game, but a passing game that ranks 115th in the country. Northern Illinois is anything but one dimensional with dual threat quarterback Jordan Lynch, who should be getting more buzz for the Heisman Trophy than he has. My money is on Lynch, one of the best players in the nation, leading the Huskies to the MAC Title by a touchdown. PICK: Northern Illinois Bigalke: The Huskies are playing in their third straight MAC Championship, and Dave Doeren’s crew is favored by just under a touchdown. Northern Illinois doesn’t bring quite as strong a defense as Rutgers into this championship game, but this will be another referendum of offense vs. defense as they try to stop do-everything Dri Archer and a potent Golden Flashes attack. With a BCS slot on the line, the home side defies Vegas.  PICK: Kent State    Friday, 8:00 PM. Palo Alto, CA. Pac 12 Championship UCLA Bruins @ Stanford Cardinal (-8.5)   Strobl: There was some debate over whether or not UCLA threw last week’s game against Stanford in order to draw the Cardinal as their opponent in the conference title game.  Elements within the mainstream media, seeking to break big news, would have us believe that the Bruins tanked to avoid Oregon.  I tend not to believe in conspiracy theories like this one, since it would have required the cooperation of dozens of coaches and players.  A plan that controversial would be hard to keep under wraps.  A more likely scenario is that Stanford was simply better.  That theory also matches up with reality; the Cardinal are indeed better than UCLA and will now have a homefield edge to further bolster their chances at gaining a Rose Bowl berth.  The only issue for me is this relatively large point spread.  I like Stanford, but the game could very easily be within a touchdown, so it all comes down to margin of victory.  Will Stanford meet Vegas’ expectations?  PICK: Stanford   Mitchell: This spread is high, but we found out which team was better last week in Pasadena. Nobody in the Pac-12 has played better than Stanford since they lost a controversial game in South Bend against Notre Dame in mid-October. You can question UCLA’s motivation last week against Stanford, but the Cardinal are the better team, and I expect them to show that once again this week. Freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan has been fantastic for Stanford since taking over the starting job against Colorado. With the threat of the downfield passing game with Hogan, the Stanford running game has opened up even more with Stepfan Taylor and company. Stanford made UCLA’s offense one dimensional last week by completely shutting down Johnathan Franklin and the Bruins run game. Expect something similar this week in Palo Alto as Stanford clinches a spot in the Rose Bowl. PICK: Stanford   Bigalke: Sometimes it is inevitable that a rematch occurs in a conference championship. Rare is the time when you see two teams playing a home-and-home series in consecutive weeks. Stanford beat UCLA last weekend, but now they have to do it again if they want to claim the Pac-12 title. The Cardinal defense held firm against Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin in a 35-17 victory; they must only win by 9 to cover this week.  PICK: Stanford   Saturday, 12:00 PM.  Ft. Worth, TX Oklahoma Sooners @ TCU Horned Frogs (+6.5)   Strobl: The Big 12 has proven yet again that defense is best left to other conferences.  While gaudy point totals might seem impressive, the game of football is about more than just offense, and the league’s lack of stopping power makes me wonder how its teams will fare in high profile bowl games.  With a win, Oklahoma will either earn a Fiest Bowl berth (with a Kansas State loss to Texas) or will be relegated to a non-BCS bowl of some renown, but whatever their destination, the Sooners need to shape up on the defensive side of the ball.  Shootout wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State don’t give me a warm feeling about Big Game Bob’s squad.  All that said, I do think they have enough firepower to beat TCU by a TD.    PICK: Oklahoma   Mitchell:  Kudos to Gary Patterson for finding a formula that works with freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin, but I don’t think they have enough in the tank to take down Texas and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks, although that would be a hell of an accomplishment in TCU’s inaugural season in the Big 12. The Sooners haven’t done anything defensively the last two weeks, but they did earn two big wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State, and they should be able to do the same against TCU this week. The Horned Frogs beat Texas last week, but did so with under 300 yards of offense thanks mainly to four Texas turnovers. I don’t think Oklahoma will be as generous this week, and even with the game being played in Forth Worth, the Sooners should win by at least a touchdown.  PICK: Oklahoma   Bigalke: Everyone is high on the Sooners. But having seen TCU shut down Texas last weekend, this is certainly no gimme for Oklahoma. They’ve still got plenty of incentive to play hard — a Kansas State loss and a Sooners win would give Stoops the Big XII title. They could also claim a BCS at-large berth still, given the love they’ve received from the humans. But the Horned Frogs have to merely hold this one within a touchdown to win for you.  PICK: TCU   Saturday, 12:00 PM.  Tulsa, OK Conference USA Championship UCF Knights @ Tulsa Golden Hurricane (-2)   Strobl: Raise your hand if you’ve watched enough Conference USA football to properly judge this matchup.  Right, me neither.  Unfortunately, there are only so many channels to cover the rich tapestry of college football, and I’ve only seen these teams a couple of times this season.  UCF played well against Ohio State and played Tulsa tough the first time the two met.  But the Knights lack a true quality win. Tulsa had respectable games against Iowa State and Arkansas, and topped UCF and Fresno State.  With a more impressive resume, slightly better numbers, and the home field, I’m content to take the Golden Hurricane and give the two points.  PICK: Tulsa   Mitchell: This is probably the biggest toss up of the week. These two met in the regular season with Tulsa winning by two points, and Vegas has set the line for this one at two. Even though Tulsa won the first meeting, I still think the Knights are the better team and have had the better season. If Central Florida is going to avenge their previous defeat, they will need a much better performance from quarterback Blake Bortles, who was just 13/31 in their regular season meeting. Also, the Knights are playing better of late with the Golden Hurricanes limping into the Conference-USA title game following their loss to SMU on the road last week. I wouldn’t be surprised either way, but I’ll take the Knights with the two points. PICK: UCF   Bigalke: This is another rematch for a conference championship, this time for the Conference USA crown. The Golden Hurricane won two weeks ago at Chapman Stadium, 23-21, and are favored at home once again. UCF has the opportunity to go bowling after the NCAA withheld its ruling on potential sanctions against the Knights until the offseason. Both teams have strong offenses and solid defenses, so this should be another close battle.  PICK: UCF   Saturday, 3:00 PM.  Jonesboro, AR Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders @ Arkansas State Red Wolves (-10)   Strobl: Like the C-USA title, this de facto Sun Belt championship is somewhat of a mystery to me.  I saw parts two MTSU games this year and only one ASU matchup.  The Blue Raiders come in as a double-digit underdog despite an impressive campaign that included an easy win over Georgia Tech and a quality win over Western Kentucky.  Perhaps that early season stumble against McNeese State and crushing losses to Louisiana Monroe and Mississippi State are more telling than the wins.  Arkansas State’s losses are all “good”; at Oregon, at Nebraska, and to WKU, but the Wolves lack a marquee win.  I think ASU is the better team, but I have a hard time believing that they’ll keep the margin above ten points.  PICK: Middle Tennessee   Mitchell: I really don’t like this spread, and I’m tempted to take Middle Tennessee State and the points, but then I look at how good Arkansas State has been playing since the start of October. The Red Wolves have won six straight games after starting 2-3, and also had an extra week to prepare for this game with a perfectly placed bye week. MTSU, on the other hand, had a fight on their hands with Troy last week. Gus Malzahn has done very well this year in Jonesboro, and I expect him to lead the Red Wolves to the double digit win over the Blue Raiders and to the Sun Belt Championship. PICK: Arkansas State   Bigalke: The Blue Raiders have won four straight after starting 4-3; the Red Wolves have won six straight after starting 2-3. While the spotlight shined on the Louisiana schools and Western Kentucky for most of the season, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State prevailed under the radar and will match up for the Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves have the stronger offense and defense, and should cover the 10-point spread for the championship.  PICK: Arkansas State   Saturday, 4:00 PM.  Atlanta, GA SEC Championship Alabama Crimson Tide @ Georgia Bulldogs (+7)   Strobl: This is one of the most interesting spreads of the year.  Alabama is giving an even touchdown/ PAT combo as the favorite to win the SEC title, and the public is split 50/50 on its selections.  The half taking Georgia must like the size of the line, because the Tide are clearly the better team.  The Dawgs have had a very good season, as long as you’re willing to forget late September and early October.  That three-week stretch featured a blowout loss to South Carolina in between two very ugly wins versus Tennessee and at Kentucky.  I credit UGA with bouncing back to beat Florida and dominate the rest of the way, but I can’t write off those less than impressive results.  On the flipside, Alabama has played roughly three quarters of bad football the entire year.  I like ‘Bama to win.  But the question of the final margin is harder to answer..  PICK: Alabama   Mitchell: Everyone seems to say that everyone else is picking Alabama, but I can’t spit without seeing an article about how Georgia is the more talented team and that they are going to win this game this weekend. We’ve also seen the Bulldogs provide the Crimson Tide with some bulletin board material this week, while things have remained quiet in Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s defense, regardless of the level of talent, has statistically been better across the board than Georgia’s. Also, Aaron Murray’s performance in big games doesn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence in the Bulldogs pulling out the win in Atlanta. Georgia faced two Top-15 defenses this year, Florida and Georgia, and Murray’s numbers were lousy. Murray completed 42% of his passes in those two games for a combined 259 yards with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. Statistically speaking, this Alabama defense will be the best he has faced this season. I think Alabama will slow down the Georgia running game and force Murray into some mistakes, while Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron comes up big when it matters the most once again. PICK: Alabama   Bigalke: After Oregon and Kansas State bungled their shot, the SEC Championship game became a play-in contest for the showdown against Touchdown Jesus. Everyone has the Tide in this one, it seems, with Vegas setting Georgia up as a touchdown underdog. But the Bulldogs have just as potent an offense, just as stout a defense, and this looks like it should be a tougher test than most are giving credit. Look for a close one coming down to the wire.  PICK: Georgia   Saturday, 8:00 PM.  Charlotte, NC ACC Championship Florida State Seminoles @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+14)   Strobl: Let’s see.  Florida State was beaten up at home by Florida and will be looking to reestablish itself in advance of the Orange Bowl.  Georgia Tech is 6-6 and won the Coastal on a technicality.  Advantage ‘Noles.  PICK: Florida State   Mitchell: For the sake of respectability, let’s all hope that Florida State doesn’t Florida State this game away. If Georgia Tech were to win, the Yellow Jackets would be 7-6 and in a BCS Bowl, easily becoming the least deserving BCS bowl participant of all time. If they lose, Georgia Tech will be 6-7 and have to petition the NCAA to even be allowed to go to a bowl game. I believed in Florida State more than I should have last week against Florida, but they shouldn’t have a whole lot of trouble against Georgia Tech this week. It worries me that the ‘Noles haven’t seen the triple option since 2009, and the Jackets will probably rack up some yards on Florida State this weekend. But, Georgia Tech won’t be able to stop EJ Manuel and the Florida State offense either. Game will be close at halftime, but the Seminoles should pull away in the second half for a two touchdown win. PICK: Florida State   Bigalke: Really, Vegas? The Seminoles are just a two-touchdown favorite to take the ACC crown against a .500 Yellow Jackets team?! I don’t know what to say except that Georgia Tech is going to look more like Murray State or Savannah State than the Gators that knocked off FSU last weekend.  PICK: Florida State   Saturday, 8:00 PM.  Manhattan, KS Texas Longhorns @ Kansas State Wildcats (-11.5)   Strobl: Kansas State had the chance to go the National Championship Game.  The Baylor game put a swift end to that, but don’t forget that the Wildcats are still playing for the Big 12 title and a trip to the Fiesta.  With two weeks to prepare for a Longhorns team that lost to TCU by seven, I suspect that Collin Klein and company will be ready to redeem themselves after their lopsided loss.  Covering 11.5 isn’t a cakewalk, but if both teams play to their potentials, we’ll see K-State in Tempe.  PICK: Kansas State   Mitchell: Kansas State should win this game, but 11.5 feels like too much. Texas had been playing pretty good football here lately until last week’s debacle against TCU on Thanksgiving. The Wildcats’ hopes of playing for the BCS Championship went up in flames in Waco, but they are still just one win away from the Big 12 Championship and a BCS Bowl berth. Texas has been bad defensively this season, and they have had trouble tackling this year, which doesn’t bode well against Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. It wouldn’t shock me if Kansas State came out and won this game by three touchdowns, but I think the Longhorns will keep this game respectable. PICK: Texas   Bigalke: Sure, the Wildcats fell from the pinnacle of the BCS mountain. But Texas also dropped a prime opportunity for a ninth win last week, and all that’s left for the Longhorns is to help out an even bigger rival and jockey for better bowl position. Kansas State has the Big XII crown at stake, a beer in the Fiesta Bowl all lined up as long as they win. Texas has improved, but they’re still not at the level of Klein and company.  PICK: Kansas State    Saturday, 8:00 PM.  Indianapolis, IN Big Ten Championship Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Wisconsin Badgers (+3)   Strobl: Wisconsin comes into the Big Ten title game as the main beneficiary of its divisional rivals’ malfeasance.  Ohio State and Penn State are both better teams, but neither is eligible for the postseason.  Thus we get a five-loss Badger team with a shot at the Rose Bowl.  It’s an awful, awful scenario for the Big Ten.  Standing in the Badgers’ way is Nebraska, a team that rallied in the second half to beat Wisconsin when the two met in Lincoln back in September.  Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, they looked atrocious last week against Iowa.  It’s hard to have much confidence in either team here.  Wisconsin has lost consecutive games against top-tier Big Ten foes, both in overtime.  Nebraska has been maddeningly inconsistent while assembling (somehow) a 10-2 record.  Since the line is only three and Nebraska is the more dynamic team, I’m leaning ‘Huskers.  But they have to corral Montee Ball to earn the ticket to Pasadena.   PICK: Nebraska   Mitchell: Two very similar teams enter this years Big Ten Championship Game, and once again for the sake of respectability, let’s hope that Nebraska beats Wisconsin and we don’t get a five loss team in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin is much more likely to beat Nebraska than Georgia Tech is of Florida State, with the Badgers only losing by three to the Huskers earlier this season. Wisconsin can very well win this game, and Vegas agrees by only making Nebraska a three point favorite. Wisconsin actually lead the regular season meeting 27-10 before allowing the Huskers to rally and win 30-27. Nebraska’s run defense has been shoddy this season, allowing 166 yards per game, and they are going to have their hands full against Montee Ball and the Badger running game. I think Wisconsin will not only cover the spread, but win the game and get back to the Rose Bowl once again. PICK: Wisconsin   Bigalke: Wisconsin isn’t as bad as their 7-5 record looks. They lost by three at Oregon State and at Nebraska, and dropped all three overtime games they played this year. And that’s with a carousel at quarterback, due to a mixture of Russell Wilson’s graduation and ineffective play and injuries. The Cornhuskers needed a comeback to beat the Badgers in Lincoln, and they’ll have just as tough a time in Indianapolis.  PICK: Wisconsin ***** 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.
PLAYERS: A.J. McCarron
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