Friday, November 14, 2014

NCAA Football Week 12 Primer (With Picks)

It's been a magical season for Mississippi State and Heisman candidate QB Dak Prescott, but can the Bulldogs get past Alabama this week?
 By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10) with a cameo by Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

After four Top-10 teams and eight Top-25 teams suffered losses last Saturday, a shakeup in the new College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings was a foregone conclusion. But the CFP committee changed the top of the rankings even more than expected. Oregon’s 51-27 win over Utah impressed the committee enough to place the Ducks ahead of undefeated defending national champion Florida State, despite Oregon’s October home loss to Arizona.

Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M vacated a spot in the Top-4, and the committee surprised fans by selecting TCU to fill the void rather than Alabama. The Tide could not ask for a better chance to prove the committee wrong this week, however, as Mississippi State comes to town on Saturday.

Game of the Week

The team of the year travels to face the team of the decade. No. 1 Mississippi State faces No. 5 Alabama. ‘Game of the week’ sells this match up short. Saturday’s SEC West clash is college football’s game of the year thus far. Mississippi State has not faced a ranked opponent since becoming the No. 1 team in the nation. This may be the biggest spotlight that has ever shone on the Bulldogs in program history.

Match ups like this are familiar for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, so Alabama remains a betting favorite, despite Mississippi State’s more impressive year to date. The winner of this game will assert itself as the team to beat in college football.

Picks Against the Spread With Editor Joe Parello

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams in CAPS)

No. 1 Mississippi State (+8) over NO. 5 ALABAMA

AD: The leading polls all agree that Mississippi State has had the most impressive 2014 season. But two preeminent advanced college football statistics, the Jeff Sagarin Ratings and the F/+ Combined Ratings, agree that Alabama has the nation’s best team. Sagarin lists Mississippi State 7th and F/+ ranks the Bulldogs 6th.  These ratings help explain why the spread favors Alabama so significantly. Many people believe the Crimson Tide is better than its ranking suggests, and statistics validate those opinions.

But an 8-point win is a lot to expect against the No. 1 team. Alabama has the talent to pull off the win at home, but the Bulldogs are No. 1 for a reason. Expect Heisman candidate Dak Prescott to keep Mississippi State in the game until the end.

JP: I'm not quite as big a believer in Dak as some are, simply because I've seen him commit far too many careless turnovers, but if he's dialed in and making good decisions, good luck stopping him. This is easily the biggest game in Mississippi State football history, and could serve as the stage for Prescott's "Heisman Moment™," so I've got to believe we'll see the best of the explosive Bulldog offense.

Whether or not that will be enough to capture a win outright in Tuscaloosa, I don't know, but the Bulldogs should be able to keep things as close as LSU did last week.

No. 3 Florida State (-3) over MIAMI

AD: College football experts have not been impressed with the Seminoles lately. The Noles haven’t lost since 2012, but they have had to scrap out a number of tough wins, unlike their dominant 2013 squad. Oddsmakers consider them vulnerable, pegging them as measly 3-point favorites against unranked 6-3 Miami. Florida State should feel disrespected this week and ought to come out with a fire against its in-state ACC rival. Granted, Miami handed No. 21 Duke its only loss and has won its last three games by over 20 points, so all signs point to a close game on Saturday. But Jameis Winston has a knack for winning these kinds of games.

JP: How on Earth is this only a three-point spread? Not only is Florida State light years ahead of Miami as a team and program right now, the Noles have everything to play for, while the Canes are essentially playing for a chance to lose the ACC title game.

Oh yeah, and the Canes can't even count on a raucous crowd getting behind them. So far this year, Miami is claiming to draw over 40,000 fans per game, but as you can see in the picture below, those numbers may be a TAD inflated.

With a large alumni base in South Florida, FSU could turn this into a home game, and as well as Miami has played lately, I don't see them keeping up with Noles.

No. 9 Auburn (+2.5) over NO. 15 GEORGIA

AD: Despite last week’s blip against unranked Texas A&M, Auburn has been more impressive than Georgia this year. Georgia is playing at home with star running back Todd Gurley returning from a four-game suspension, two factors that make the oddsmakers consider the game close to a tossup.

But the Bulldogs have not missed Gurley much. Backup running back Nick Chubb has gained at least 170 yards from scrimmage and scored in all four games without Gurley, so Gurley’s return shouldn’t swing the balance of power in this match up. Georgia can’t blame its 38-20 home loss to Florida on Gurley’s absence. Chubb did all he could, gaining 215 yards on 26 touches. Stopping the run has been Georgia’s bigger issue, and Auburn’s vaunted rushing attack will look to exploit that weakness.

JP: Neither of these teams have impressed me in recent weeks, as I effectively left Florida and Texas A&M for dead last month, until they defeated Georgia and Auburn, respectively, the last two weeks. Still, A&M was riding a young and talented quarterback, while the Gators just physically dominated the Bulldogs, who struggled to contain Florida's running game.

If they thought that was tough, they ain't seen nothing yet. Nick Marshall may be (momentarily) out of the Heisman discussion, but he's still one of the most lethal runners in the country, and Gus Malzahn's wacky up-tempo offense is sure to run the Dawgs ragged. 

No. 19 Clemson (-3) over NO. 22 GEORGIA TECH

Georgia Tech has a premier offense, and Clemson arguably has the nation’s best defense. When a high-powered offense meets a high-powered defense, defense often prevails. Clemson should be able to limit the production of the Yellow Jackets’ option scheme and come out with the win.

JP: I've seen Georgia Tech (and really, any team running the Triple Option) disappear in big games too often to take the Yellow Jackets, even with the points. Even at home. Clemson has as athletic a front-seven as there is in the country, and the penetration of the Tigers' speedy line should kill Georgia Tech's ground game.

Here Are The Picks We Don't (Home Teams Still In CAPS)

AD: No. 8 Ohio State (-14) over NO. 25 MINNESOTA

Minnesota has no top-25 wins and a loss to unranked Illinois. Ohio State beat that same Illinois team 55-14 and followed up that win with a 12-point victory at Michigan State. Ohio State has come a long way since its embarrassing home loss to unranked Virginia Tech in week 2. Since then, the Buckeyes have shown that they are true national championship contenders, which the Golden Gophers are not. Look for Ohio State to win big.

JP: NO. 25 MINNESOTA (+14) over No. 8 Ohio State

I don't really know why I'm making this pick (mostly to disagree with you), but let me say a few things in Minny's favor. The Gophers bounced back from that humbling Illinois loss by dropping 50+ on a decent Iowa team, and Minnesota still has yet to lose within the friendly confines of TCF Bank Stadium (a great, but COLD place to watch a game).

Minnesota knows how to run the ball, and David Cobb is the best running back you've never heard of, racking up over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground so far. While nobody has been able to stop the Buckeyes since their roll started, the Gophers have as good a shot as anybody to slow them down, with a defense surrendering just 21 points per game (No. 23 nationally), and an offense that has helped Minny rank second in the Big Ten in time of possession.

If they can the run the ball with any effectiveness and contain OSU, the Gophers should be able to hang within two scores at home.

AD: No. 16 Nebraska (+6.5) over NO. 20 WISCONSIN

Wisconsin has not faced a ranked opponent since Week 1, so Nebraska will be a big step up in class for the Badgers. Nebraska’s one loss came by five points at No. 12 Michigan State, whereas Wisconsin has a bad loss to 3-6 Northwestern. Nebraska has the better team and should win this game outright. Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon, two of the nation’s best running backs, will make this a fun one to watch.

JP: NO. 20 WISCONSIN (-6.5) over No. 16 Nebraska

What can I say, I just like the Badgers and Melvin Gordon better. That, and Abdullah is trying to play with a slight tear in his left MCL. The star back suffered the injury two weeks ago against Purdue and had a bye week to rehab it, but it's hard to see him playing at 100 percent, and it will be tough to be productive at anything less against Wisconsin's physical defense.

Plus, Camp Randall Stadium is one of the very best home field advantages in college football. Never underestimate the power of "Jump Around!"

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