Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone! As always, I'm thankful for family, friends, my health, my career, freedom, tailgating, America, free booze, liberty, hot chicks, the power of the human spirit, nachos, Pearl Jam's entire catalog, simple acts of kindness, Showtime's primetime programming, my collective life experiences, hot dogs, Sportbook.com, college football, and of course, timely holidays that allow me to avoid writing a creative intro to my column.
Here are this week's picks...
I'm hoping that a rivalry game will finally give us the spirited USC performance that we've been waiting for all year. If USC plays to its potential, UCLA won't be able to hang. Of course, if USC plays like they have most weeks, like they've spent Friday night blowing spliffs and chasing tail, then UCLA can definitely hand them their fourth loss of the season. It's funny, the thing that gets every good high school player to visit USC -- warm weather and scantily-clad women -- is the same thing that makes them lose focus and lose two winnable games a year. I really hope they pass on the frat parties and show up ready to play tomorrow. Come on Trojans, America needs you to get it together so that you can knock off Notre Dame next week.
I try not to say this out loud anymore, but I'm a lifelong Penn State fan. The Lions got screwed by the refs against Nebraska last week. Tight end Matt Lehman had clearly crossed the goal line before losing the football, yet even after an extensive review, the refs were unable to make the correct call. I'll be honest, I don't like that rule; I wish players were required to maintain possession until and even after they hit the ground. But the rule is what it is, and the refs got it wrong. Penn State should have been up 30-27, but instead Nebraska got the ball with a 4-point lead, and the rest was history.
So I must be mad about that call, right? Nope. That was a very evenly matched game. Either team could have won, and Nebraska certainly deserved the victory with the way they clawed back from an early game deficit. No one play ever makes or breaks a game. The Huskers outplayed the Lions in the second half, and for that I congratulate them.
Penn State has played valiantly this season, but they're still not that great. They don't have a ton of talent and a lot of their best players are young. Bill O'Brien has done a hell of a job, and Penn State fans no longer have to feel like the next three seasons are a complete waste.
This Indiana game will be a perfect example of what I've just said. Penn State should win, but this won't be a 50-0 blowout. The Hoosiers are not as terrible as they've been in previous years. I think they'll play the Lions tough and keep it within 20. Penn State 31, Indiana 17.
Now, there's something I haven't addressed yet this season, and this might be my last chance to ever address it, so here goes. Penn State made a ton of errors in their handling of the Jerry Sandusky case, but the one thing they absolutely should have done was to file an injunction that barred Sandusky from wearing Penn State clothing. Every time the news showed Sandusky, he was dressed head-to-toe in Penn State gear, with that stupid shit-eating grin on his face. He wore a blue Penn State windbreaker and blue Penn State warm-up pants every single day for six months. He hadn't worked at the school in 12 years. I'm convinced that if Sandusky wore jeans and a gray t-shirt, everyone would talk about how he was an evil man and how we shouldn't sully the name of a good university. But instead that fucker showed up every single day in his Penn State windbreaker and people were like, "this is an institutional problem!!" Hey Sandusky, if you're reading this, you're the worst, we hate you forever, and it's too late to save your soul. But if you want to make the slightest of amends with the Penn State community, there are two things you can do. A) Kill yourself, and B) before you do, give a press conference wearing a Michigan jersey.
Purdue -6 over Illinois
This game has WatchESPN.com written all over it. I'll take a fiery-although-inconsistent Purdue team over Big Ten doormat Illinois.
NC State / Clemson OVER 64.5
I was really touched by last week's College Gameday segment on Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez. For those who didn't see it, Rodriguez is an Army veteran who watched several of his best friends die during a surprise attack in Afghanistan. His description of the battle -- blood everywhere, brain matter on his boots -- was horrifying. It was a great Veterans' Day reminder that we still have a lot of young soldiers out there putting it on the line.
That's only the beginning, though. What I loved was the next part of Rodriguez's story. While in Afghanistan, Rodriguez and a fellow soldier made a promise to each other that, when they returned to the U.S., they would follow their biggest dream. Rodriguez's friend, of course, never returned home. But Rodriguez stayed true to his end of the bargain. His dream was to play college football. After months of suffering from PTSD, he woke up one day and said to himself, "it starts today" (I especially loved that part). He trained every day. He made his own recruiting film in which he worked out and told his life story. He sent the tape around to a bunch of coaches, and his story made a strong impression with Clemson's Dabo Swinney. Swinney was especially impressed that Rodriguez never asked for a spot on the team, only for a tryout. Rodriguez got his chance, and as they say, the rest is history. Rodriguez is a real-life Rudy, only if Rudy was also an Army combat veteran.
We live in a world where everyone is constantly complaining about what they don't have. People are always arguing about the 1%, or the welfare leeches, or why some fast food chain is destroying America. Even people with great lives aren't above constant whining. Right now, as I'm writing this, my girlfriend is forcing me to sit through a show where rich ugly old whores scream at each other and burst into tears when someone scuffs their yacht. It's nice to know that there are still people who set goals and work their asses off to achieve them. Daniel Rodriguez isn't going to make the NFL, win a Heisman, or even be the MVP of a game. But he had a goal, and through sheer determination, he made it happen. There's no reason every one of us can't do the same.
Now that I've made that triumphant speech, let me return to my usual job of enabling degenerate gamblers. Clemson is putting up over 40 points a game. They're going to put up even more against a weak NC State secondary. NC State can sling it as well. This game is going over, possibly way over. Clemson 49, NC State 28.
Texas Tech / Oklahoma State OVER 73
Don't look now but this young Oklahoma State team has grown up in a hurry. They're not 40 but they're definitely men. Both of these teams play a hurry-up style that is conducive to OVER bets. I see no reason why they won't combine for at least 80. I think Oklahoma State wins this game by a touchdown, so if you're looking to bet the line, I would go with Texas Tech and the points.
I can't believe that it's November 17th, week 12 of the season, and two of the top ten teams in the country are allowed to play games like this. Sportsbook.com doesn't even offer lines on these games, that's how absurd these match-ups are. (I had to estimate the lines - pretty sure I nailed it.) I understand playing a cupcake week 1 or 2, when your team needs to iron out some of its wrinkles. But this should not be allowed. You want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. Let's say you want to be the world's greatest runner. You need to beat Usain Bolt in the finals, but before you reach the finals, you still have to beat another Jamaican or Lolo Jones or at least that Blade Runner guy. You don't get to race the quarterfinal against a one-legged gimp with a learning disability. These teams still have a legitimate shot at playing for the title, and their quarterfinal games are against Phoenix Online and the Khan Academy. Sorry Georgia Southern fans but you know it's true. I think the BCS needs to institute the following new rule: Starting with week 8, if you play a team ranked worse than #100 nationally, you automatically move down one position in the rankings. Bama and Georgia are currently ranked #4 and #5, respectively. If it were up to me, they'd begin next week ranked #5 and #6, one spot further away from National Championship contention.
Louisiana Tech +3 over Utah State
Utah State is a good mid-major team. Louisiana Tech is a good team, period. I'll take the points, but really, I’m expecting an outright victory.
Oklahoma -11 over West Virginia
It's been really sad watching West Virginia over the past month or so. Remember in September when WVU was a top ten team and Geno Smith was a shoo-in for Heisman? Now the question is, can they lose by less than 10 or will they get blown out? West Virginia is that girl who's super-hot in high school then is a 6.5 with two kids out of wedlock by age 23. That's like twenty girls from my high school by the way. They were goddesses once, now they look like Mountaineers. Oklahoma 52, West Virginia 31.
A lot of factors at play here. First off, a big letdown game for the Orange, who dominated Louisville last week in their 2012 Super Bowl. Secondly, it's a night game at Missouri, which will be a hostile environment. Third, Big East vs. SEC, enough said. Fourth, Syracuse's basketball team won a big game on an aircraft carrier, and every Cuse bball win equals 1,000 less fans who care about Cuse football. Fifth, Missouri has been smacked around all year by physical SEC opponents, and they'll love the chance to go out and smack someone else around. It's like when mom yells at dad, then dad yells at the dog, then the dog growls at the cat. Missouri is the dog, Syracuse is the cat. I like Mizzou to roll over the Cuse. Tigers 31, Cuse 20.
If any team in the PAC-12 can slow down the Ducks, it's Stanford. I would not advise betting against this Oregon team, but I wouldn't advise taking a 21 point spread against this tough Cardinal squad either. If Stanford’s defense can continue its “party in the backfield,” as they’ve done all year, it could spell trouble for Marcus Mariota and the Ducks. “Party in the backfield” sounds like some kind of organized frat house sexual assault, FYI. The Stanford D might want to think about revising that phrase.
This game will tell us a lot about Oregon. Right now the National Championship is theirs for the taking. Sure they have a tough few weeks left, but there's not one game where I'd bet on their opponent. They’re the best of the undefeated teams, and maybe the best in the nation period. It looks like Chip Kelly is bolting after the season, so what better way to send him off to the NFL than with that long-elusive Oregon championship. If the Ducks are to make the title game, I like their chances against both Kansas State and Notre Dame. The worst match-up for them is Alabama, so while you Oregon fans are rooting for a PAC-12 title, you should also be praying that Bama doesn't sneak back into the title game conversation.
Kansas State -13 over Baylor
Gotta ride the hot hand. I just don't see Collin Klein letting this one slip away, not with so much on the line. Kansas State 58, Baylor 31. Big statement win for the Wildcats.
You may notice that I picked no major upsets this week. In my opinion, this week is the calm before the BCS storm. Next week is the week that these undefeated teams need to watch out for. Texas is playing well and should give the Wildcats a challenge. Meanwhile, Notre Dame faces its stiffest test of the year at USC, and Oregon will have to reach down deep to beat their cross-state rivals. Next week could very well be the week that determines our 2013 BCS picture. Until then, fire up the turkey, and the space heater if you live in the Northeast, and enjoy another fine Saturday of college football games.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @thefaketomz