Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Last Batch of Many, (Too) Many College Football Bowl Games.

Thursday was a good day. Tonight I went 2-0 to increase my bowl record to 8-4 (reminder: I'm not suggesting every game is playable) including 3 straight-up underdog wins on the ML.

As I'm writing this, OSU is handing Colorado it's collective hat and we've still got the Friday games so there's a lot of football still to play.  But the last batch of games, the big money games, might be some of the most interesting of all, and some of the ones that you might not be so quick to take a stab at.....

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Saturday, December 31st, 10:00 AM CST.

LSU (-3.5) @ Louisville. [59.5]. As much as I want to root for LSU here, it's hard to not pull, at least a little, for Lamar Jackson to have a quality game. The biggest issue, that I see, is that Louisville's offense has never done well against truly top opposition, and their defense is just not as good as a lot of people think it will be.  The Tigers should be motivated to play for Coach O, and I question Louisville's fire since they were hoping for a playoff berth right up until they got roasted by the UH Cougars. One unknown, is LSU down like the rest of their (currently) 1-4 bowl record conference? LSU 24 Louisville 23. Pick: Too many unknowns here, so pass.  But if I like anything I like the UNDER.

TaxSlayer Bowl. Saturday, December 31st, 10:00 AM CST.

Georgia Tech (-3) @ Kentucky. [62.5]. As is always the question when Georgia Tech plays: "Can their opponent stop the run?" Unfortunately for Kentucky, they really can't.  They allow 225 yards per game, and 5.1 yards per carry.  If the Ramblin' wreck gets that kind of production it's going to be a long, long day for the Wildcats.  Paul Johnson is one of those coaches that fan bases love to hate, but who holds on to his job by doing just enough to keep from getting fired. I think the Yellow Jackets continue to pile on to the SEC, who is absorbing some blows this year. GA Tech 42 Kentucky 30. Pick: Georgia Tech to cover -3 and the OVER.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (CFP Semi-final), December 31st, 2:00 PM CST.

Washington @ Alabama (-14) [53]. This line continues to inch closer and closer to Bama blowout territory, and I think that's what we're going to see.  For all of the talk about the "SEC being down" Alabama is certainly not, and I think that Washington got a lot of their record on the backs of an overrated PAC-12 conference this year. I typically am not a fan of lines this big however, Saban dominates. Washington 10 Alabama 45. Pick: Alabama to cover -14.

Playstation Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semi-final), December 31st, 6:00 PM CST.

Ohio State (-2.5) @ Clemson. [58.5]. Finding upset potential in these games is a little bit harder than it is with games in the lower tier.  For one, almost everyone has seen these two teams play and we know an awful lot about them.  To my mind, Ohio State has two key advantages that Clemson is going to have to overcome.  Overall talent, and coaching.  But Clemson is by far the better team in terms of QB play, and skill of play makers. I see this game as pretty even, but I think there's a mild upset opportunity to be had here.  Ohio State 24 Clemson 27. Pick: Clemson to win on the ML.

Outback Bowl, Monday, January 2nd, Noon CST.

Florida (-3) @ Iowa. [40.5]. This game could be the snoozer of the day. Neither team is all that good at the offensive side of the game and neither has especially talented players that could surprise either. Iowa has a better QB but Florida has better players almost everywhere else (with the possible exception of O-line).  Both teams are solid defensively, but I think Florida has better players. Florida 17 Iowa 10. Pick: Florida to cover -3 and the UNDER.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Monday, January 2nd, Noon CST.

Western Michigan @ Wisconsin (-8.5) [52.5]. Western Michigan is a feel-good story, and Wisconsin's motivation is going to be suspect, at best.  One thing working against the Broncos however is that I just don't think they're very good.  The MAC is terrible this year, having gone 0-5 in bowl games and in danger of becoming the only non-win conference.  And the B1G, is pretty good. Motivation or no I like Wisconsin to win, and I'm pretty sure they do it convincingly. UNLESS they show up unmotivated.  That's why this game is a no-fly zone for me. Western Michigan 10 Wisconsin 31. Pick: Lay off of this. But, if you must: Wisc to cover -8.5 and the under.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by NorthWestern Mutual. Monday, January 2nd, 4:00 PM CST.

USC (-7) @ Penn State. [59.5]. I truly believe that the Trojans might be the 2nd best team in the country, right now. I also believe that Penn State is only a good, not great, football team. I expect USC to score early, and score often. I don't think this one is going to be all that close. Still, aesthetically it's the perfect setting for football. So, worth a watch for that. USC 42 Penn State 13. Pick: USC to cover -7.

Allstate Sugar Bowl. Monday, January 2nd, 7:30 PM CST.

Auburn @ Oklahoma (-3) [63.5]. Auburn is the team that drew the unlucky "well SOMEONE from the SEC has to be in a NY6 Bowl besides Alabama." straw.  Their reward for that? Playing an OU team that rattled off 9 straight wins in conference after starting the season 1-2 with losses at Houston, and AT Ohio State. That's a brutal run followed by a monstrous finish. Auburn meanwhile struggled finishing the season losing to Georgia, and getting dominated by Alabama. How this line is sitting at -3 is beyond me. I'm not griping however. Auburn 10 OU 38. Pick: OU to cover -3 and the UNDER (I don't think Auburn can score enough points to hold up their end for the over).

And that's it.  At least until next week when we have to look at the CFP championship game. (Hint: Alabama will probably be in there and will be favored by at least a Touchdown no matter who they play).

Good luck this weekend, and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Third Batch of Many, (too) Many College Football Bowl Games.

Life is balance.  And balance caused me to miss the last batch of bowl games.  I only had a play on two of them (WV vs. Miami [loss on WV ML] & KSU vs. aTm [Win KSU ML]) with the rest not striking me as all that compelling.  That said, the Pinstripe Bowl was one of my favorite of the year so far.  A highly entertaining game between Northwestern and Pitt that the Wildcats eventually won.

But it was Christmas, and I needed a break and some alone-time with the wife that didn't involve picking college football games.  That's done now, and I'm back, so here's the next fresh, piping hot group of useless predictions....

First, it should be noted that I went 3-3 in the last group of games, including (again) 3 underdogs who pulled the outright upset win.  That puts me at 6-4 for the bowl season (7-5 if you want to include the two plays yesterday, which I did post Twitter via CappedIN.)

Birmingham Bowl, Thursday, December 29th, 1:00 PM CST.

South Florida (-10.5) at South Carolina [61.5]. One of the most difficult things to do in football is to determine bowl motivation. It's why picking bowls is hard, and even the best of experts find themselves sub-.500 more years than not.  That said, I think this is a classic motivation game. South Carolina is happy to be here while South Florida was hoping for better.  I don't think the Gamecocks have the firepower to beat the Bulls, but the American Athletic Conference has looked terrible this year so it wouldn't shock me either. Plus, Willie Taggart is gone.  USF 27 USC 24. Pick: South Carolina to cover +10.5 and you might take a peek at that under.

Belk Bowl, Thursday, December 29th, 4:30 PM CST.

Arkansas @ Virginia Tech (-7) [59.5]. There are few coaches in college football that I dislike more than Bielema.  And I think the SEC is pretty overrated this year.  One thing about the Razorbacks however, they're either going to lay a spectacular egg or they're going to pull a humiliating upset. There never seems to be any middle ground.  Arkansas 10 Virginia Tech 38. Pick: Va Tech to cover -7

Valero Alamo Bowl, Thursday, December 29th, 8:00 PM CST.

Oklahoma State @ Colorado (-3) [62.5]. Typically one of the more frustrating bowl games of the season as this pits the two teams from the Big X(II) and the Pac-12 who just missed a NY6 bowl. It promises fireworks, and often delivers, but it's brutal to pick because you never know who's going to show up and who isn't.  HUGE lay-off game for me. But, since it must be done. Oklahoma State 42 Colorado 45. Pick (such as it is) OVER.

Autozone Liberty Bowl. Friday, December 30th, 11:00 AM CST.

Georgia @ Texas Christian University (-2.5) [48.5]. This bowl has gotten a LOT better since it stopped being the championship payoff for the C-USA. You typically get an under-the-radar matchup between two teams who were disappointing in their conference but who want to use this as a springboard toward the next year. I see the same here. What I also see is that Georgia will have much better QB play than will a TCU team whose defense has also been abysmal this year. Georgia 35 TCU 17. Pick: Georgia on the ML for the mild upset.

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Friday, December 30th, 1:00 PM CST.

Stanford (-2.5) @ North Carolina [54]. Everyone's favorite "out there" bowl game keeps on keeping on as CBS' lone bright spot of the bowl season. The bowl that the Foster Farms Bowl is aspiring to become for Fox. If you like college football you like the Sun Bowl.  This year especially so because we're going to find out if Stanford can do anything offensively sans McCafferey.  My bet is no.  I also think UNC has a good team and the PAC-12 is overrated talk heading into the Bama/UDub semi-final game is going to be deafening. Stanford 7 UNC 28. Pick: UNC on the ML for the mild upset.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Friday, December 30th, 2:30 PM CST

Nebraska @ Tennessee (-6.5) [58.5]. The powers that be at ESPN hope that you watch the Liberty Bowl, and then don't change the channel to watch this mess of a game pitting two teams who underachieved all year against one another.  Nebraska will be missing star QB Tommy Armstrong, who is "hoping" to be available as a backup.  Tennessee is a hot mess.  Watch the Sun Bowl instead.  I've got no feel for this game as the Cornhuskers are tough to decipher, and the Volunteers have been a beautiful disaster all season.  But still.... Nebraska 10 Tennessee 30.  Pick: I guess play the UNDER, but I'm not touching this mess.

Nova Homes Arizona Bowl. Friday, December 30th, 4:30 PM CST.

South Alabama @ Air Force. (-13.5) [57]. Why this game is played on Friday and not during the first week of the bowl season is beyond me.  It's out of place, out of a good time slot, and will be relegated to ESPN 2 which means that it's going to be lightly watched as well.  South Alabama was a good story this year, they had a great upset and a good season, but Air Force is just too good. I don't think this one will be close. South Alabama 20 Air Force 52. Pick: Air Force to cover -13.5 and the OVER.

Capitol One Orange Bowl. Friday, December 30th, 7:00 PM CST.

Michigan (-6.5) @ Florida State [52]. Pretty much every pundit in the country, excepting Joey Galloway, thinks that this Michigan team is good.  Galloway thinks they're "hype" which doesn't explain why they came within one inch of besting his beloved Buckeyes. But Joey's season-long idiocy aside there are two very talented teams matching up here. Yes, Dalvin Cook will be out and Michigan's defense is going to stifle Florida State's inconsistent Freshman QB.  But the Florida State defense is for real and should keep this relatively close.  As is my custom, I never (ever) make picks on Michigan games because I always believe they are going to win by 30 (unless they are playing Ohio State of course, and I continue to maintain that I'll be happily wrong the first time they beat the Buckeyes.)  Michigan 33 Florida State 3.   Pick: Go Blue!!!

I'll be back with the final batch of games, probably on Saturday morning. Including the two CFP games although I'm unsure if I'm going to have plays on that more than I just have predictions and some analysis.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Second Batch of many, (too) many College Football Bowl Games.

After a fairly successful start (3-1 including 3 under dogs selected on the money line.) It's time to take a look at the next group of games.  As with the first five, I might, or might not, have a pick to offer here.  On every game I'll offer up at least something, but I'll let you know just how strongly I feel about it.

If I don't feel good at all, I'm not counting it as a pick b/c while it's a lean it's nothing that I would recommend playing.

Get it?  Got it?


Boca Raton Bowl. Tuesday, December 20th. 6:00 PM CST.

Memphis @ Western Kentucky (-5) [O/U 79]. This is one of those games where both teams have motivations issues and the outcome is about as predictable as is the weather, next month, during a specific minute.  All I can say here is pass, pass. pass and just enjoy what should be a fairly competitive game matching up two teams with pretty decent offenses and not much on the way of defense.  Since I have to lean some way, I'm leaning toward the Tigers. Memphis 35 WKU 38. Pick: Memphis to cover -5.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Wednesday, December 21st. 8:00 PM CST.

BYU (-9) @ Wyoming. [57.5]. There are a lot of reasons to like the Cowboys here. First, they are quite possibly the best coached team in the FBS not named Alabama, and they get more out of sub-par athletic ability than anyone.  Second, they haven't been bowling in a while so they should be fired up.  But this is BYU, and this is (finally) going to be Cougar QB Taysom Hill's final game.  That said, I like the Cowboys to keep this one close, but not enough to pull another call for a money line upset bet. BYU 27 Wyoming 23. Pick Wyoming to cover +9 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Thursday, December 22nd. 6:00 PM CST.

Idaho @ Colorado State (-13.5) [64.5]. On paper this feels like a Ram's blowout win. But I can't get over the fact that Idaho is much improved this year, and this is, functionally, a home game for the Vandals despite being played on the Smurf-Turf at Boise.  Odds are, it will be cold, which should bother neither team.  I expect points to be plentiful however because I've not seen much from either team in the way of defense this year. Idaho 31 Colorado State 38. Pick: Idaho to cover +13.5

Popeye's Bahama's Bowl. Friday, December 23rd. Noon, CST.

Eastern Michigan @ Old Dominion (-4) [65]. How bad is Eastern Michigan football?  This is their first bowl appearance since 1987.  And even then they can't silence the large crowd who says they should drop to the FCS. Old Dominion is recently elevated to the FBS and this is their first bowl berth in school history.  Needless to say, effort and enthusiasm should not be a question in this game.  What is a question is team strength, and I think ODU is the MUCH stronger team here.  They have a better record, and play in a better conference. I don't think this one will be close. EMU 10 ODU 42. Pick: ODU to cover -4. Might take a stab at the UNDER as well.

Lockeed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Friday, December 23rd. 3:30 PM CST.

Louisiana Tech (-6) @ Navy. [66.5]. Motivation for Navy is the huge question in this game. They were speaking not-so-quietly about a possible NY6 bowl until disaster struck, in the form of injuries to their starting QB and defensive leader, in the AAC Championship game. La-Tech should be happy to be here and has an extended time to prepare for Navy's unorthadox triple option offense. I think La Tech has enough talent to win by a couple of scores. La Tech 35 Navy 21. Pick: La Tech to cover -6.

Dollar General Bowl. Friday, December 23rd, 7:00 PM CST.

Ohio @ Troy (-4) [49.5] This seems like it could be a not-fun way to end the bowl day. I think it's going to be a pretty good game however.  Troy is a good SunBelt team that has two respectable losses (close to Clemson and Georgia Southern) on its resume and one head-scratcher (a blowout loss to Arkansas State) while Ohio won their division, played Tennessee and Western Michigan close, but has to look back to losses against Texas State and Eastern Michigan and think WTF?  Bobcat head coach Frank Solich has been doing it at Ohio for a while now, and seems to consistently field good, if not flashy teams that are JUST not good enough to win the MAC.  Coaching to Ohio then, athletic ability to Troy.  Ohio 17 Troy 20. Pick: Ohio to cover +4.

Right now the Christmas Eve Hawai'i Bowl has been taken down from most boards due to a collarbone injury to Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill. Until his status is known it's impossible to handicap this game so we'll be watching (and waiting) and will update when we can.

Until then, enjoy the games.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The first batch of many, (too)many College Football Bowl Games.

Once again we find ourselves on the cusp of a mess of a college football bowl season. If you're a dedicated college football fan (me) then this is the best time of the year. If you're a casual football fan this can be some hilariously bad football. If you're a fan of the NFL?  Just go away, this blog post has nothing for you.

There are, once again, over 40(!) bowl games being played from the major (the College Football Playoff) to the so-called "minor" (many of the games in this post).  Of course, to the teams playing, and their fans, these games are critical, they provide one last chance to see their teams play, they allow for a (sometimes) nice vacation during the Holiday season, and they offer the teams playing a group of extra practices that teams not qualified for a bowl do not receive.

The first games start this weekend, and they have a couple of very interesting match-ups right off the bat.

Let's dig in shall we?

Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Saturday, December 17th 1:00 PM CST.

New Mexico [7-4] (-7) vs. Texas San Antonio[6-6] O/U 62.5. Under head coach Brad Davies the Wolfpack of New Mexico had a good season and actually, for a few weeks, seemed as if they might make some noise in the Mountain West. Instead, they get a bowl matchup against a UT-SA team that showed some improvement as well.  Both teams settled around 50% when it came to covering the spread (NM 5-6, UTSA 6-5-1). My numbers show this game to be about a touchdown difference, so I'm not doing a thing here.  New Mexico 42 UT-SA 35.  Pick: OVER

Las Vegas Bowl Presented by GEICO, Saturday, December 17th 2:30 PM CST.

Houston [9-3] (-3.5) @SDSU [10-3] O/U 54.5. This is a classic "motivation" game. Houston was hoping for much better than this when the season started, has lost their coach to UT-Austin, and is desperately trying to hold things together from a recruiting perspective under new HC Major Applewhite. SDSU won the Mountain West and, while still disappointed, is in the best bowl game for them. On paper this is the most exciting bowl matchup of the day, but these games aren't played on paper.  This is the game that I will be watching because Brent Musberger and Jesse Palmer will be in the booth.  Houston 33 SDSU 39 Pick: SDSU on the moneyline and OVER.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. Saturday, December 17th 4:30 PM CST.

Toledo [9-3] (-1) @ Appalachian State [9-3]. O/U 57. This little ball game is possibly my favorite line of the day. Coming from the SunBelt Conference App State does not get much in the way of love from bettors, and to be honest, they're not that great against the spread this year (6-6). But I've no faith in the Toledo Rockets and I think App State gets the upset here. Toledo 27 App State 33. Pick: Appalachian State on the moneyline.

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Saturday, December 17th, 4:30 PM CST.

UCF [6-6] (-6) @ Arkansas State [7-5]. O/U 49.5. Another "upset special" where I think a SunBelt conference team is getting short shrift because they're a SunBelt conference team. In addition, I see some over potential here. Arkansas State has a dynamic offense that can put a bunch of points on the board, but they struggle defensively which should allow a revitalized UCF team score as well.  The deciding factor, to me, is team speed. Arkansas State has a ton more of it than the Knights. UCF 27 Arkansas State 38. Pick: Arkansas State on the moneyline and the OVER.

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Saturday, December 17th, 8:00 PM CST.

Southern Mississippi [6-6] (-4) @ University of Louisiana Lafayette. [6-6]. O/U 58. Two teams with similar records that don't reveal how their seasons really went. USM was 3-9 against the spread while ULaLa was 8-4.  The Cajuns are yet ANOTHER good SunBelt team that usually gets some funny odds due to their conference affiliation. It seems the public just hasn't caught on in regards to these teams.  Southern Miss had a great year given the depths to which their program had fallen, and ULaLa took a step back during an injury plagued year. I expect this one to be close. USM 27 ULaLa 28. Pick: ULaLa to Cover +4.

Miami Beach Bowl. Monday, December 19th, 1:30 PM CST.

Central Michigan [6-6] @ Tulsa [9-3] (-11.5) O/U 68.5. To my mind, this is the biggest mismatch of the first batch of games. Central Michigan got a lot of press for beating Oklahoma State on a play that never should have happened. Tulsa has been one of the top offensive teams in the country all season long. Tulsa is also, perhaps surprisingly, going to keep head coach Philip Montgomery for at least another season.  In terms of motivation that's huge.  The MAC conference was among the weakest in college football this year, I'd have a problem picking them against almost anyone. CMU 14 Tulsa 56. Pick: Tulsa to cover -11.5.

And that's all I've got for the early slate.  Fade, follow, or ignore. Whatever, just enjoy the games.  I know that I will.

Monday, December 5, 2016

College Football: The Good (And Bad) of the Bowl Schedule.

On Sunday everything was finalized for College Football.  The College Football Playoff Committee made their choices, which almost everyone declared to either be either the best or worst of all worlds, there is no middle ground. In all fairness however, this year, the strange and crazy year, provided the Committee with a no-win situation.

Should Penn State have been in the top 4? Possibly.  But they lost to Michigan 49-10 and they lost to Pitt 42-39.  Washington did get in, with one of the weakest strength of schedules you're likely to see in a top 4 team. Ohio State also got in, despite losing to Penn State.  Oklahoma was out, despite running the table in the Big XII but losing to Houston and Ohio State, the latter at home. Michigan got left out, despite beating up Penn State but losing to Iowa and Ohio State, both on the road.

As it stands though, this is your top six.

1. Alabama. (13-0) - No arguments here. Consistently the best team in the land, the defending champion, undefeated and almost unchallenged most of the year.

2. Clemson (12-1) - Again, no arguments. And while Virginia Tech made it close in the ACC Championship game this is the team most likely to have a shot at challenging Alabama.

3. Ohio State (11-1) - No 13th game for the Buckeyes because Penn State beat them and played for the B1G championship. It's hard to argue against them unless you believe that winning the conference is of the utmost importance.

4. Washington (12-1) - The Pac-12 champions whose out of conference schedule included Rutgers, Idaho and Portand State. That loss to USC doesn't bode well for their chances to beat Alabama.

5. Penn State (11-2) - The team with the strongest argument for inclusion due to their winning the B1G and beating Ohio State.  Except they lost badly to.....

6. Michigan (10-2) - Has a fringe argument, except they lost to Iowa and Ohio State. Still, had a good season.

But the big games happen later in the schedule.  First things first, this season is gifting us with 41(!!) bowl match-ups, a handful involving 5-7 teams which is a sure-fire sign we have too many bowls. The thing is, we keep adding bowls and not retracting, so there's going to come a time when we run out of 5-7 teams if this keeps up.

As with any bowl season there are some good games (on paper) some bad, and some downright ugly. Here are my initial thoughts.

Games to watch:

Las Vegas Bowl 
Houston vs. San Diego State University. 3:30 PM EST, December 17th

One of the pluses of ESPN ownership of multiple bowl games is that they're allowed to tweak the invitations among them to better the match-ups.  This is the case here. UH was originally slotted into the St. Petersburg Bowl, where they would have likely played Mississippi State. A mid-Decmeber match-up against Donnel Pumphrey and the Aztecs is much more interesting. The only caveat to this is that Houston might lack motivation.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
BYU vs. Wyoming. 9 PM EST, December 21st.

This should be a solid match-up pitting two well coached teams against one another in a game that's usually exciting.  Wyoming head-coach Craig Bohl has the Cowboys on the map in his first season of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back FCS Championships at NDSU.

Popeye's Bahamas Bowl
Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan, 1PM EST December 23rd.

There are worse things you could do while wrapping presents than tuning into this game pitting two teams with no bowl history matching up in the Bahamas. You probably haven't seen these two teams play much, which is another reason to tune in.

Russell Athletic Bowl
West Virginia vs. Miami(Fl) 5:30 PM EST, December 28th.

Possibly the most entertaining head coaching match-up as newly extended Dana Holgerson of West Virginia takes on first year Miami coach Mark Richt. Richt did a good job with Miami this year and Dana has a defense. I'm thinking this is a competitive game if both teams are motivated.

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.
Texas A&M vs. Kansas State. 9:00 PM EST, December 28th.

Any time you can get aTm playing a Big XII team it's a good thing.  This is also likely to be K-State coach Bill Snyder's last game so that's worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Valero Alamo Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Colorado. 9:00 PM EST, December 29th.

This game is typically a flat affair between two teams that had NY6 bowl hopes but got blasted in the championship game.  It's no different this year but I think these two former Big 8 rivals might decide that they don't want to lose this game.

Capital One Orange Bowl
Michigan vs. Florida State. 8:00 PM EST, December 30th.

The first of the so-called 'NY6' bowls this one gives us a match-up between Florida State's offense, and Michigan's excellent defense. I'm expecting a low-scoring, hard hitting affair.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
LSU vs. Louisville, 11:00 AM EST, December 31st.

Wake up early on New Year's Eve and watch this. Lamar Jackson vs the LSU defense alone makes this potentially one of the better things in what has been a fairly crap 2016 to be honest.

Rose Bowl
USC vs. Penn State, 5:00 PM EST, January 2nd.

If nothing else, the Rose Bowl is the best of the bowl games just because.  Plus, this might be the last chance you get to see Adoree Jackson play college football. The setting is beautiful, so wake up early, watch the parade and get ready for college football as it's meant to be.

Games to miss: (I'll be watching most of these, so you don't have to)

St. Petersburg Bowl
Miami(OH) vs. Mississippi State. 11:00 AM, December 26th.

A bowl game pitting a team that went 0-6 before winning it's last six to become bowl eligible versus as 5-7 Bulldog team whose coach has mailed it in this year?  I would wake up early and possibly go to the malls to spend your Christmas money rather than watch this snoozer.

National Funding Holiday Bowl
Minnesota vs. Washington State. 7 PM EST, December 27th.

Two 6-6 teams that are ranked 88th and 89th in ARPI respectively. This is the most average, middle of the road bowl in possibly ever. Plus, I don't think Minnesota has the team speed to hang with Wazzu. I'm not expecting a very compelling game.

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.
Baylor vs. Boise State. 10:15 PM EST, December 27th

Baylor should have declined a bowl invite and ended this disaster of a season. But, it's Baylor, so they didn't.  That doesn't mean that you should stay up late to watch this mess.

Belk Bowl
Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech. 5:30 PM EST, December 29th.

There's not a lot to get excited about in this pairing, as an overrated Arkansas team looks to get demolished by Virginia Tech. Unless, and this is more likely, neither team shows up very motivated.

Pure ugliness (I'm not even sure I'll be watching this one.)

Outback Bowl
Florida vs. Iowa. 1:00 PM EST, January 2nd.

A noon kick off the day after New Year's provides little reason to not sleep way in.  This is your last day of the holiday. Don't waste it watching this snoozer of a game.

Obviously also you're going to want to watch the College Football Playoff games, except for the late game played on December 31st. (Again, I'll be at home watching because I don't go out on amateur night)  I'll be back with full reviews of all the games in segments as we get closer to them.

Get some rest. It's going to be a long bowl season to cap off what was an entertaining year of College Football.

Friday, December 2, 2016

College Football: The CFP is designed to take the money and run.....unless.

There's starting to be a growing amount of writing suggesting that an expansion of the College Football Playoff, from 4 to 8 teams, is the 'fairest' way to go. The thought behind this being that with 5 power conferences and only 4 open slots there are always going to be deserving teams that, to be blunt, get the shaft.

While I agree with the expansion calls, I think that they don't go far enough.  If you want to make the playoff truly fair then you expand to a point that every conference champion gets in. Yes, I'm including Group of 5 conferences in this scenario. To get to that you would need to expand to (at least) 12 teams. Giving the Top 4 seeds byes and allowing the remaining 8 to play each other in week one.

This would leave you with 8 teams and off we go.

"THIS CANNOT HAPPEN!!!" those who run the bowls would say.  "What about academics?!?!" "What about the Holidays?!?!"

Of course, none of the people hollering those questions worry about it too much in terms of basketball, or soccer, or volleyball.

In fact, the only reason to not expand  the College Football Playoff is to continue to prop up an antiquated bowl system that's pilfering the athletic budgets of participating schools for profit.

It's time to sweep away the vestiges of the past, retire the old codgers wearing garish blazers and put the crumbling bowl system out of its misery.

Win your conference, or make the playoff as an at-large team or your season's done, period. Then you don't have to worry about 5-7 teams making it into bowls or whether or not Texas would accept a bid. Then you don't have to moan and complain that a 5-7 team is playing a 6-6 team in the Havana Cigar Bowl.

All you have to worry about is the 12 teams that qualified to make it into the post-season.

Purists will say that this "cheapens the regular season" which is bunk. Conference titles still matter, as do overall win/loss records, especially when it comes to out of conference scheduling for at-large teams. In other words, teams that schedule hard, and have so-called "good" losses on their records and come in second in their conference would be rewarded over Baylor who plays schools barely able to field a good roster. (This is assuming Baylor football isn't barred from ever participating, which they should be, to remove temptation.)

Despite all of this I'm here to predict that nothing is going to change, at least not until the current CFP deal runs it's course in 2024, and maybe not even then. The reason is simple.

In order to drive change in college football you have to have a scenario where a helmet school is on the blunt end of a CFP snub.  Ohio State this year would be a prime example. Were the Buckeyes to be left out of the playoff in favor of a Penn State, or Wisconsin, B1G Champion then you might see some upheaval. If Alabama lost to Florida (snicker) in the SEC Championship and got snubbed then you might hear some grumbling. In fact, you would certainly hear some grumbling then because all of those Auburn, Florida, aTm, LSU, and Miss State fans would lose their main reason for shouting "S! E! C!" every time the Tide does something good.

You wanna gripe about "cheapening the regular season"?  This is going to be your year.

Because Ohio State lost to Penn State in the regular season and, if the latter wins, the former is a shoe-in to be included in the CFP regardless.  In short, what happened in the regular season didn't matter one bit because the committee *thinks* that OSU is the better team.

They know this because they've been watching football for a long time, and have been involved with it. If you question them they appeal back to that authority that you just don't have.

And this year they're going to be 100% wrong, and the year after that, and the year after that etc.

Even firing Larry Culpepper won't change that reality.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

College Football: Bring on the Championship Games. (FunBelt Excluded)

In the minds of many, the upcoming weekend is the best of the College Football season.  No, it's not the beginning of the CFP (which, this year, is 100% certain to get it 100% wrong) but the weekend when most conferences crown their annual champion leading to many locker room celebration and the triggering of bonus payout clauses in coaching contracts.

Yay money!

Currently there are two (2) of the Ten (10) FBS conferences that don't have a championship game. Fortunately for one of them (Big XII) the annual Bedlam matchup between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is a de-facto Championship since they are the only two teams with either zero (OU) or 1 (OSU) conference loss.  There will be no "co-champions" in the Big XII this year.  What's going to keep them out of the CFP is that, no matter who wins, the eventual conference champion is going to have 2 losses overall, with no OOC marquee wins to show for it.

As for the SunBelt?  Sorry guys.  Better luck next year.  Appalachian State has already claimed at least a share of the crown, they just don't know who, if anyone, they will be sharing it with. Both Troy and Arkansas State have games this weekend that determine which of them, or if both of them, can join the Mountaineers at the top.

Unfortunately, again this week, the SEC gives us yet another week when their premier team (Alabama) finds a walkover opponent (Florida).   All that's missing is a 6-7 figure payment from Tuscaloosa to Gainesville as an incentive for the latter to get rolled by the Tide.

On to the games. (Note: MOST (not all) of these games are neutral site games. Be sure to check on that before you dive in.  In many cases I've factored that in even if I didn't mention it here)

MAC: Western Michigan (-18.5) @ Ohio. Not enough credit is given to Frank Solich who continues to win, at Ohio, at the pace he won at Nebraska before being summarily dismissed by a team that hasn't been the same since. He is an underrated coach who seems to be happy in his current role.  The same can't be said for P.J. Fleck, who is a poor-man's Tom Herman who is now facing, for the first time, real, honest-to-goodness speculation that he's going to be rowing the boat elsewhere next season. (Oregon would be a GREAT fit IMO).

A few years back I remember a Houston team, then coached by Kevin Sumlin, who walked into their conference championship game with rumors swirling that their head coach was departing. The result was a blowout of an unfocused, unprepared Cougar squad by a well-coached Southern Miss team.

The difference here is that I think P.J. Fleck is a better coach than Sumlin.  It will be close, because Solich can coach, but I think Fleck gets the conference crown that has heretofore eluded Kevin Sumlin.

Western Michigan 38 Ohio 30.

Pick:  Ohio to cover +18.5 

PAC 12: Colorado @ Washington (-7.5). Except for developing issues unwrapping a Trojan, this has been a dream season for the Huskies. But Colorado has been stellar as well, before breaking against the same team.  (OK, sorry).  But while Colorado has a "happy to be here" factor working for it Washington enters this game with some real pressure.  The consensus for the Huskies is "win, and you're in" to the College Football Playoff. Head Coach Chris Peterson is no stranger to big game situations, but he's typically come into them as an underdog when he was in charge at Boise State. We honestly have zero frame of reference for the Mike McIntyre coached Buffalo because, to be honest, this is the first truly "big" game they have played in almost a decade.

If anything, the common opponent litmus test (which is somewhat useless in college football but I'll mention it anyway) tells us that Washington has been better against the same, excepting the aforementioned Trojans. Washington is better at QB, RB, WR, O-line, TE, DB, DL, LB and Special Teams. Colorado should be playing fast and loose.

Washington is listed as the Home team but this is really a neutral-site game.

Colorado 24 Washington 28.

Pick: Colorado to cover +7.5 and the UNDER.

American: Temple @ Navy (-3). The conventional wisdom surrounding the Group of 5 teams is that if Western Michigan wins, then the Broncos are the shoo-in to receive the New Year's Six guarantee. The fly in the ointment here is Navy, who have a better resume than does WMU and who play in a tougher conference to boot. In fact, head's up on a neutral field, there are few that would probably take WMU over the Mid-Shipmen. And I can guarantee you there are fewer Power 5 teams who would rather face the latter over the former to boot.

Temple is a team that started off rough, with a loss to Army, but which rebounded nicely once conference play started. They also avoided playing Houston this year, which helped them a lot. One problem for Temple is that they're suffering the curse of good G5 teams. Head Coach Matt Rhule is suddenly a hot commodity for P5 programs looking to upgrade.

Navy's Triple option offense is difficult to prepare for, unless you have an extended period to prepare. Temple, unfortunately, doesn't.  But I think their defense is just good enough to keep this game from morphing into a blowout early, provided the players and coaches haven't been too busy pondering life without Rhule.

Temple 27 Navy 34

Pick: Navy to Cover -3.

Conference USA: Louisiana Tech @ Western Kentucky (-9.5). There was a (brief) time when C-USA was the unquestioned premier Group of 5 conference in the land. They had Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, and (briefly) TCU.  Winning this league meant that you had a very, very good football team and they had a stronger argument of being the "sixth" power conference than the American does today.

Sadly, the last round of expansion gutted them, they picked up the dregs of other conferences and soldier on without much exposure and one of the worst television contracts in college football. People forget that these two teams played each other, back in early October, with Tech taking a 55-52 win over the Hilltoppers, AT Western Kentucky.

That was the last game Western Kentucky lost however, as the team, coached by Jeff Brohm, went on a tear and started playing their best football at the right time. Meanwhile, the Skip Holtz coached Bulldogs did what Skip Holtz teams do and faltered down the stretch, losing an inexplicable game to Southern Mississippi last week. Were they looking ahead?

I don't think so.

La Tech 24 Western Kentucky 42

Pick: Western Kentucky to cover -9.5.

Mountain West:  San Diego State University (-6.5) @ Wyoming. Let's talk for a minute about last week.  It's never good for a conference, especially one that's been hyped as being "all that" all year to have their two "best" teams housed at identical moments right before they match up in the championship game. But that's what happened as SDSU got humiliated by Colorado State 63-31 and Wyoming got hammered 56-35 by New Mexico.

These teams played each other two games prior, with Wyoming winning by one point, 34-33
 at home.  Prior to that however the Cowboys lost 66-69 to UNLV at the Big Craps Table in Las Vegas.  It's safe to say that neither team has done much to distinguish itself.

Wyoming Head Coach Craig Bohl, formerly of NDSU-multiple-FCS-National-Championships fame, is a good football coach who knows how to prepare his team for big games. The Aztec's Rocky Long doesn't have that pedigree, and early returns show that focus is a problem.  What the Aztec's do have going for them is Donnel Pumphrey, the best running back in the country you might not have heard of, or seen.

Wyoming doesn't have that kind of game-breaking ability, but they did gift the college football world with the safety dance which was one of the better things to come out of the football season.  Add to that the fact they're very well coached, and I think we have a game that's much, much closer than the odds-makers think.

SDSU 35 Wyoming 32.

Pick: Wyoming to cover +6.5

Bedlam (Big XII de-facto Championship game) Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (-11.5) Since 1999, when Bob Stoops took over as HC of OU, this series has tilted heavily toward the Sooners and the scores have traditionally not been all that close. In fact, the recent trends for this game are that when the Sooners win, they win big and when the Cowboys win, they win close. Sure, there are aberrations (2011's 44-10 shellacking of OU by OSU for example) but on balance those trends hold.

Bedlam is also a "rivalry" game that's decidedly one-sided, with OU holding a 85-18-7 advantage. Over 110 games that equates to an OSU win every six years. To be fair however, OSU has done better in recent years, taking seven of the last 23 games. That equates to a win every 3 1/2 years.  So OSU has gotten better, and when they have talent they are fairly competitive with the Sooners.

This year I think the Cowboys have some talent, especially on offense.  And the Sooners, despite having a good season, are not what they once were on defense.  Of course, the Cowboys aren't getting the turnovers they once did so my gut-feeling is that this is going to be a shootout.  But not a crazy, bet the rent on the over kind. (the O/U number for this game is currently around 77 depending on the book)

OSU 42 OU 49

Pick: Oklahoma State to cover +11.5  Maybe throw a little at the OVER but not much.

SEC: Alabama (-24) @ Florida. The SEC (L)East is weak. So weak that they offered up Florida, a team absent a college offense, as a sacrificial lamb to the fighting Sabans. There's really not much to say about this game except that it's going to be on TV, and it will (likely) be the last SEC game called by Verne Lundquist.  It's a shame he didn't get a better one. Maybe the Gators will surprise, but I can't see how.

Bama 35 Florida 3.

Pick: So many touts talk about "5 star" and "4 star" games etc. For me this is a 1/100th star game. If you must, Bama to cover -24, and take the UNDER (currently at 41) because this is going to be a one-handed offensive game.

ACC: Clemson (-10) @ Virginia Tech. Almost a mirror image of the Pac-12 Championship game, except that Clemson, the team with everything to lose, has been involved in the CFP before.

New Head Coach Justin Fuente took his act from Memphis and did just about the best job you can replacing a legend. The old saying in coaching: "You don't want to be the man who replaces the man, you want to replace the man who replaced the man" (Hi, Tom Herman) seems to not apply to Fuente early.

Of course, the difference between Frank Beemer and Mack Brown is that the former left his successor with some talent to work with, while the latter did not. Also, Fuente doesn't have prominent donors calling him a "coordinator" due primarily to his skin-tone wither. It just does to show how some schools, despite having a resource advantage, can be a cess-pool while others, with less resources, might not be.

Clemson, on the other hand, has everything. Resources, talent, a committed head coach.  Everything except a dominant performance this year. This is a team that's been so good, it's hard to imagine that they're catching shade of not blowing out opponents by 50 every week.

As good as the Hokies have been, I think they get a lesson here in just how good they're going to have to be in order to beat the likes of Clemson and Florida State.

Clemson 38 Virginia Tech 13

Pick: Clemson to cover -10

B1G: Wisconsin (-2.5) @ Penn State. This is not the B1G championship game you were looking for. That was actually played last week when Ohio State rode 3-Wilton Speight turnovers, and some untimely Wolverine defensive lapses, to a win.  Because, title-game aside, the question of who the best team in the B1G is was answered in the Horseshoe.

That said, Penn State went and messed up the apple cart by squeaking out a win over an Ohio State team that didn't react well to the white out.  That game should serve as a reminder to all: It's hard, damn hard, to win a conference game on the road against a better-than-average team.

So that leaves us with the 3rd and 4th best teams in the conference, meeting up to play for the trophy, while Ohio State (probably) beats them both our for the B1G's slot in the CFP as the committee again moves the goalposts to a different location to benefit helmet schools.  C'est la vie folks.

What this game does promise to provide is a pretty stiff defensive challenge for both teams. Amazingly, the O/U for this game currently rests at around 47, making that play just about the best line I've seen all year.

I'm predicting a FG fest, with maybe a TD (or two) sprinkled in for good measure, maybe even of the defensive or special teams variety.

Wisky 16 Penn State 6

Pick: Wisky to cover -2.5 and the UNDER. (Which probably means the game will go over by the 2nd period)

Other games of some interest....

Fun Belt/Sun Belt.

Remember I stated that the Sun Belt didn't have a championship game and that both Troy and Arkansas State had a chance for co-titles.  Yeah, I think they both get there but one school has a much tougher (and less tragic) road.

Troy (-7) @ Georgia Southern. The Eagles of Ga. Southern had a new coach this year, Tyson Summers, who inherited a lot of young talent from former HC, and current Tuland head man, Willie Fritz.  Still, Troy.  Troy 38 Georgia Southern 24.  Pick: Troy to cover -7.

Arkansas State (-24) @ Texas State. Earlier in the season Texas State had a tragic bus crash that injured one player and 5 others. Fortunately, the injuries were minor but it was a fitting symbol for the Bobcats season, where they are widely regarded as the worst FBS program. Here's hoping they turn it around next year because San Marcos is a great town, what Austin used to before it morphed into the pit it is today.  Arkansas State 49 TxSt 10. Arkansas State to cover -24.

One last pick:

Big XII: Kansas State @ Texas Christian University (-4.5).  To my mind this is potentially the best line of the week. This is, essentially, Bill Snyder's last regular season game and you know the players want to send him out with a win. Add to this the fact that TCU is one of the more disappointing teams in CFB this year?  K-State 27 TCU 24. Pick K-State on the ML.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Houston Texans: Time to Either Blow up the Mess or Send your Money Elsewhere.

"We're still 6-5 and in 1st place in the Division"

"We had a chance to win"

"All we need to do is make the playoffs and then who knows?"

These are the things mediocre teams say to their fan base in attempts to convince them that things are OK. To be honest, in most cases they're probably trying to convince themselves.

But if you believe that everything is A-OK with the National Football League Franchise currently doing business on Kirby Drive in Houston Texas then you're just as much a part of the problem as they are.

This team is a mess. The front office is a mess, the coaching staff is a mess, player/personnel decision-making is a mess, the coaching is a mess, the roster is a mess, the defense is a mess, the quarterback is a (devolving) mess. The Houston Texans, as an organization, are a mess.

Their only saving grace?

They play in the AFC South which contains three franchises that are even bigger messes right now.

But the gap is narrowing.  It's down to one game actually as the Titans improved to 5-6 vs the Texans 6-5. The two teams still have another head-to-head game to play.

The problems are almost too many to list.  But let's give it a shot.

Coaching - Head Coach Bill O'Brien seems completely incapable of either making a creative game plan on offense, or adjusting much during the game. If you take away the runs on 1st and 2nd down this team is clueless. In fact, the highest point total they've had this year is 24 points. 24.  The defense doesn't have an excuse either, despite missing JJ Watt due to back surgery they still have what we've been promised is a cast of talented players. The coaching staff consistently has major problems nullifying what opposing teams do well.  Good defensive staffs can usually do this.

Players - Despite what you hear in local media, this is not an especially talented, or deep, roster. General Manager Rick Smith is starting to hurt the team due to his seeming inability to find NFL quality players in any round other than 1 & 7. The list of bad 2nd and 3rd round draft picks in this team's history is longer than the amount of current drafted players on the roster.

Offense - In short, the Texans barely have one. They rank 30th in total yards, 30th in passing, are near the bottom in points. The only thing this team does well is run the ball (5th in rushing) but they can't score because they are 29th in points. Much of this is due to the horrible play of high-priced free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler who is 27th in the league in total QBR, For the Texans, this is a historically awful offense, reminiscent of the expansion-era offenses.

Fans - You read that correctly, the fans themselves are a big part of the problem for this team. They're a problem because they keep spending money buying tickets, renewing season tickets, and generally supporting this hot-mess of mediocrity that stays the exact same year after year.

You want to improve this luke-warm pile of porridge that masquerades as a team that wants to "compete for and win Super Bowls"?

Start finding better ways to spend your Sundays, and more constructive uses for your season-ticket money. Stop buying jerseys etc. It's not enough to just show up and boo loudly. Bob McNair doesn't care because he's already got you money and is happy being mediocre while his kids spend it.

The only way to drive change, to force this team to get a new front office, revamp the roster and find a quality coaching staff, is to start threatening Cal's children't inheritance. That means it's time for Texans fans to show the team some tough love, by ignoring them in the same manner they did the Rockets and Astros when they weren't trying to build winners.

Don't worry, even if you purchased a PSL you can buy back in should the team get good again.

Consider it a fan intervention.  It's tough, but it has to be done.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

College Football: Takeaways from the first CFP Committee Top 25

First things first:

Until you get to the final rankings, the CFP Top 25 is a rather useless attempt at attention-seeking by the CFP Committee who are trying to manufacture conversation in a sport that really doesn't need the help.  While the College Football Playoff is an improvement over the B(C)S, the weekly dog-and-pony show that is the CFP Top 25 is not.

Second, where the initial CFP rankings DO provide some insight is into the minds of the CFP committee for the current year. It lets us know who they value (or undervalue) and where their irrational biases are going to lie in the coming year.  After the first set of rankings, we know a few things.

 1. It really is Alabama and everyone else. It's so bad that a 20 point loss to Alabama isn't treated as a loss at all to the committee. See aTm at number 4 over what many people think is a better Washington team at number 5.

 2. The committee hears the "S-E-C!!" chants. It really is the saddest chant in the world. Basically it's every other school screaming "We're living vicariously off of Alabama's glory!" but it's a thing now and the committee obviously agrees. Case in point: Auburn's best win is over an Ole Miss team that we only think is good because of one solid half against Alabama (see point 1) yet they're ranked #9.

3. For some schools, the eye test doesn't matter. Michigan has looked much better than Clemson, but the latter is #2. The reason for this is because Clemson's schedule, to date, has been much tougher than Big Blue's.

4. Beating Ohio State is viewed VERY favorably. How else do you justify putting a pedestrian Penn State team at #9?  Outside of that, they've been drilled by every good team they've played.

5. It's better to be a middling Power 5 team than an excellent Group of 5 team. Florida State (5-3) has lost to every good team that it's played. Yet they are ranked one spot above undefeated Western Michigan. Based on this criteria, had Houston stayed unbeaten, they would have been ranked somewhere around 16, even IF they beat Louisville.

6. On that note, the system is hopelessly flawed and always will be. There is no group of 5 representation on the committee, a committee whose sole purpose is to ensure the top conferences, outside of the token NY Six bowl bid for the top ranked G5 conference champ, have a hammer-lock on the CFP.

7. The rankings, are a success. I'm not the only one talking about it. College Football is going mad over the items above and so are all of the media/talking heads.  This will be the last time I mention it until the final poll however. I'm going to let the games play out and not worry about what some insulated panel of football Courtesans think about who the best teams are.

8. Until we get to a system where either every conference champion gets a slot (with two at large) or we move to 4-16 team super-conferences who break away fully from the NCAA we're going to have this mess. It will be best to just watch the games and enjoy college football for the show it is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Houston Texans: So? What now? (27-9 Edition)

There are several ways to react to a thorough beat-down of the type the Denver Broncos put on the Houston Texans last night.

You can go faux tough-guy like Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla (Who himself would fold like a cheap pizza box if Osweiler ever came at him with fire in his eyes)

You can go cliche (in an online story full of type-setting errors, grammatical errors etc.)

You can go disappointed parent angry (Which, aside from confirming National sources for local stories, is all this guy does these days)

Or you can go somewhat poetic (I say somewhat because it's clear Wilson and football are only slightly acquainted.)

In between bouts of deep depression and fits of anger (or worse, for the team, resignation) you could forgive Texans fan for ignoring all of this and deciding that there are better things to do on Sunday. In short: You could go numb. You'll find your brisket moment however, it might have been the Fumbleception, or it might come in the future.

But a franchise that is interested in actually winning playoff games and championships wouldn't. They wouldn't stand pat as week after week the head coach says "This was on me" and "We have to play better" and the $72MM quarterback stands in front of cameras stating "I have to play better".

It wouldn't continue to employ a GM whose built a roster slightly better than the Browns, Titans and Bears of the world, but nowhere near competitive against the Broncos, Patriots, Vikings, Steelers et al. It wouldn't keep around a GM who seemingly is clueless in talent evaluation, who has consistently fielded in order: An offensive line that is below average, cornerbacks and safeties who have trouble both in coverage and run support, linebackers who are, to put it delicately, slow. And a D-line who, absent JJ Watt, spends more time getting pushed around than pushing people around.

And we haven't even gotten to a quarterback who has trouble throwing the ball further than 4 yards down the field, TE's who are not especially good at either running routes, catching passes or run blocking, and WR's who, as a unit, cannot run a complex route tree and separate from coverage. At least the special teams last night didn't have their now once-per-game meltdown.

By any metric this Texans team is low on talent. To deny that is to deny that the on-the-road-against-good-football-teams beat-downs are becoming routine.  The Texans didn't just lose last night, they got beaten. Beaten in every aspect of the game. Only the fact that the Broncos are stubbornly choosing to start Trevor Simien kept them from getting trucked by 40 or more.

The difference though, is that Denver does have talent across the board. They have enough talent that they can afford to sit and wait on Simien to develop as a quarterback, to grow through playing.  Because if he messes up, the defense is good enough to cover that up.

The Texans just aren't talented enough to win despite having a QB who is seemingly allergic to completing the vertical pass right now.  To be fair though, he's not being given much of an opportunity to complete down the field passes because the Texans have implemented a game plan full of three step drops and quick releases. They have to do this because the O-line can't slow down the rush enough to allow routes to develop downfield.

The worst news is that it's going to get worse, because Derek Newton (who I've been critical of in the past but who was having a good year, when healthy, to this point) went down last night with what is apparently two torn patella tendons. That's a brutal injury and I hope the best for Mr. Newton. It's certainly season ending, I'm a little worried it could be career ending for him.

One thing for sure, last night's game was a season-ender for the Texans, in terms of being a contender. They might still make the playoffs only because the AFC South is a raging dumpster fire of bad football.  But they might not, because the Jaguars are looking better of late and I still think they end up winning the thing at 9-7.

But even if the Texans DO win and make the playoffs, do you have any faith that they can beat a team that's playoff caliber?  Right now the only team with a current winning record is the Chiefs, who sit at 4-2 and might still be the 4th best team in their division. At the maximum they're the 3rd. And the Texans beat them at home, in a game where they still had a ton of players out with injury, including their best player, Running back Jamaal Charles.

The Texans will go to the press after this game and say all of the rote things. They'll say that they "need to play better" and remark on how Denver (and Minnesota, and the Patriots) are "good teams" and that they believe they can beat anyone in the league if they just play good football and "execute their game plan".

Here's the problem with those talking points. It's becoming increasingly obvious that they're not true. It's also becoming increasingly obvious that things are not going to change as long as Bob McNair is making money hand over fist.  So enjoy it Texans fans, a future full of 8-8 with a handful of dumpster fires against good teams whenever you play them.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A LifeTime of Running Cold (Part VI) You have to learn to crawl before you walk.

Coming off our trip to Atlantic City I was feeling pretty good. I had just come off two "successful" gambling trips where I won (slightly) and only lost slightly.  The important thing was that instead of blowing through my entire bankroll, and then heading to the ATM to get some more money to waste, I had actually come home, and deposited back into the bank a considerable amount of cash.

This is a big step for any gambler.  Not the first time you do it mind you, because luck is just that and can strike on any one trip, but if you can do it consecutive trips in a row then you start to think you might be on to something.  And I was. Like most people who head to the casinos I had previously just gone with the idea that I'd throw money into a slot machine and see where luck took me. The idea that my play could affect the house edge hadn't yet registered. I understood the basic concept that some games were better than others but I still thought silly things such as it mattered if you put your player's card in the slot in terms of what you were paid out (it doesn't) and that casinos tightened the slots during peak hours (they can't, it doesn't work that way)

My first gambling book changed all of those thoughts forever. It also changed the way that I gamble to this day.  It was a basic book, 1000 Best Casino Gambling Secrets by Bill Burton.  And while the 1000 items aren't exactly "secrets" they are things that the average gambler doesn't consider. As an accountant, and amateur statistician, I was familiar with concepts such as "house edge", "expected return" (the house edge in inverse form) and "standard deviation" but I had never given them much thought when gambling in the past. I also bought Gambling 102 by the "Wizard of Odds" Michael Shackleford. Again, it's nothing earth shattering, but if you're stepping into the world of statistical analysis for gaming then it's probably a must-read. Finally, I started reading up on horse-betting, learning about overlays and why you should always try to find (and play) them.

In short, there was a huge learning curve. I purchased training software for video poker, as well as played countless hands on free software designed to help me learn strategy.  In my life I've probably played 3-4 Million hands of poker in the various iterations, over the last couple of years you can probably add another Million hands to that count in video poker alone.

I started out, as everyone should, with "Jacks or Better" learning, and losing along the way until I finally started getting less and less correcting warnings on the simulators. I was learning, and not as slowly as I feared. I kept playing hands and I kept getting better. I also started playing blackjack again on Wizard of Odds, using their strategy trainer and actually doing better.  The wife and I had a Vegas trip coming up so I was confident, I just knew I would not only play better, but budget myself better and come home with money for a change.

It was our Birthday weekend in 2014 and we were staying at the LINQ.  I was ready to play video poker and my wife was excited to see a new property.  Things started off solid. I played at TAG Sports Bar the first night and hit three 4 of a kinds (on Jacks or Better) to get me slightly up. The next day we were headed downtown where I knew things were going to be good.

And I wasn't disappointed. I switched over to "Double Double Bonus" poker and started hitting 4-of-a-kinds again. Nothing with a kicker, and nothing that paid out too much, but wins were wins and, after a while, I was up somewhere around $300 and was starting to think I had this gambling thing all figured out.

Then the standard deviation caught up with me, and I started to lose. It happened first at the Golden Nugget, where I blew through $100 of my profit rapidly. It continued at the Downtown Grand (another hundred) and culminated at the Four Queens.  So, after all of that I was even for the day but still feeling optimistic due to my start.  Before quitting for the day we went to the D for a drink at the long bar. I decided to hit the blackjack tables and, lo and behold, caught a friendly shoe and left there up $100.

The rest of the trip was a continuation on the theme.  One casino up, one casino down.  At the end of the trip we counted up all of the money we had remaining and we ended up putting the exact same amount of money into the bank after the trip as we withdrew before the trip.  I was like Clark Griswold in "Vegas Vacation". "Hey, I didn't lose!".

But Las Vegas was like the dealer. "OK Cory, now you're really gonna get it!"

More on that in the next installment.

College Football: At The Halfway point - What I got wrong. (A mid-season Top 25)

Besides thinking I would have enough time to do enough research to properly pick games that is.

1. The FIVE. This year's FIVE has been an unmitigated disaster.  As such, it's going on hiatus for the remainder of the year.  I MIGHT bring it back next year, but more likely I'll probably try something different.  Last week I was 0-5 FWIW.  Not that you expected anything different.

2. The UCLA Bruins. I honestly thought this would be UCLA's year. I thought they had enough talent, and that USC would be down, and they would finally win the PAC-12 South, the conference championship, and get a playoff berth.  Uh,  What I failed to take into full consideration was the utter incompetence of their head coach.

3. The USC Trojans. I wasn't surprised to see them lose early, but I am surprised that they have displayed the resiliency to come back strong.  As it stands now I like their chances in the PAC-12 South.

4. Houston. What I thought was a team that would go undefeated, and still miss the CFP, is a team that's now not even going to win it's division, much less the American conference and has some glaring holes on both the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

5. Penn State. I'll be honest, I thought they would be bad.  And while they're not great, they're certainly not the mess that I thought they would be.  Kudos to James Franklin.

6. Ohio State. They need an O-line, badly.

7. Nebraska. It's appearing that I whiffed on some of the B1G teams.

8. Michigan State. I thought they would backslide a little, but not to this level.  My goodness. Still, it's Michigan week and this game is ALWAYS close.  As a Wolverine's fan I'm still worried about the trip to East Lansing.

9. Auburn. After their star running back was dismissed from the team in pre-season I thought they were done.  As it stands, they might be the 2nd best team in the SEC right now.

10. Texas aTm. I had them at 7-5. To be fair however, they could still get there.

11. Baylor. I thought that this personnel under Jim Grobe would be a nightmare. And while they've yet to play anyone significant they have looked much better than I thought.

12. TCU. I, and pretty much everyone else, didn't foresee them being THIS bad.

13. Tennessee. Another case where I liked the talent, but underestimated the awfulness of the coaching staff.

14. Texas. I thought this might be the year they turn it around. Not beating OU or anything but at least making a bowl game. That's in doubt now and it's possible that Charlie Strong is a fired coach who just hasn't been told yet.

15. Florida State. Jimbo, Jimbo. What happened?  All that talent and, so far, two absolute truckings to show for it.  Ugh.

16. NorthWestern. Is actually pretty good.  Who knew?

17. Minnesota. This team should be much better than it is, but they blew it on replacing Kill.

18. Game length. I, incorrectly, thought that CFB would take steps to shorten the games and make them more watchable.  Something needs to be done stat.

19. Targeting. I don't know what targeting is obviously, but neither do announcers, and the rule-makers themselves.  Because everyone seems to be ignoring 1/2 of the rule, especially when Alabama is involved.

20. Michigan. Yes, they're my team, but I seem to have underestimated them a little. This defense is really, really good.

21. The Big XII. I assumed they had competent leadership.  I was wrong.

22. Arizona State. Somewhat better than the tire-fire I thought they might be.

23. Arizona. I thought Rich-Rod would keep them from tire-fire status.  Wrong.

24. Eastern Michigan. I mean, NO ONE saw this coming right?

25. Alabama. Not that they would be good, but that they would be THIS good, and clearly the best team in the country right now. (and it's not close)

All of the above stated, I'm not willing to give Bama the title just yet. There's a LOT of football left to play.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

College Football: The Saturday pruning of the Urban Meyer coaching tree.

Saturday had a suddenness to it for both Ohio State and Houston.  For the Buckeyes it was the moment that Penn State blocked a FG attempt, and ran it back for the go-ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter. For Houston it was at the beginning of the game, seeing SMU (yes, THAT SMU) jump out to a 21-0 lead before the 1st quarter was over.

For Houston, the loss was devastating, for Ohio State not so much. Houston now finds itself outside of the National conversation looking in, with no hope of getting back into the mix this year. The Cougars are now 3-2 in their division and are likely looking at playing in a bowl well before New Year's Day. One of those "Capitol One Bowl Week" ESPN games with a low six-figure payout that are not watched by many. Give it to 'That private school in Dallas trying to get to 7 wins' they all but completed the gutting of the Houston program that the Big XII started earlier in the week.

For Ohio State the loss was less damaging. Yes, it's hard to fathom how a team so talented couldn't put away the Nitany Lions, or why the Buckeyes are not Alabama North for that matter. But they still would most likely get into the playoff if they ran the table, and won in the B1G championship game. Such is the power in the "Power 5", where even two-loss Wisconsin is given an eyelash of a chance to still squeak into the 4-team soiree.

Despite playing out in different manners the two teams are remarkably similar when it comes to the issues they're trying to address. Both teams possess shockingly bad offensive lines, and neither team's special teams are all that special.

For Ohio State, I think this is probably fixable. The team is talented and the players are as well. For Houston I think the situation is more troublesome. For the Cougars I believe the issue is level of talent and that can't be fixed except through recruiting, and that takes time. It also might be cause for Power 5 teams to pump the brakes on the Herman enthusiasm, let's see if he can fix this mess long-term before giving him a set of $5 Million dollar keys to a $100+ Million dollar car that is a big-time college athletic program.

The history of college football is littered with the losing records of coaches who were given huge jobs, and huge paydays, based on crafting a winning record by using the previous administration's recruits. We just saw one get fired from Purdue in Hazell, who had one winning season at Kent State then couldn't replicate that success at a Purdue program where the cupboard was bare. Worse off, he couldn't recruit the fix either.

For Herman that might not be a problem, he's shown the ability to bring in big-name recruits and one would think he'd do an even better job at a school with Power 5 resources. At Texas, for example, you can probably gain a 5-star or three just by sitting down on the sofa and pointing to the Longhorn on your shirt. That's a powerful advantage.

Since I live in Houston, I selfishly hope that Herman stays with the Cougars for another year, if only to see what his team looks like, and if they can address the obvious talent holes that exist through recruiting.  I have a sneaking suspicion however that UT-Austin is going to back up the Brinks truck since it appears that Charlie Strong is all but gone.

Lest we forget, a few years ago Charlie Strong was the Tom Herman of his day. An up and coming coach who won at a non-power 5 level and was a shoo-in to succeed in his new post.

How times have changed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A Lifetime of Running Cold (Part V): The Atlantic City Trip that Changed Everything.

As I have recounted (repeatedly) in Parts I - IV of these tales my early gambling excursions were alcohol-fueled trips that resulted in pretty big losses, and not so fun hangovers. In short, I was everything casinos love, uneducated, inebriated and bereft of bankroll management knowledge. In short, I was a sucker, a mush if you will.

I have also, and remain, a cold runner my entire life.  So when I imply that the trip to Atlantic City of which I'm about to relate "changed everything" I meant more toward my outlook on gambling as a whole. Not my relationship to the standard deviation. On that metric I'm still very much trending toward the casinos side.

We went to Atlantic City in October of 2012 for our birthdays. The wife and I share birthdays exactly 2 years and 1 day apart. Her on October 30th, mine on Halloween. The upside to this is that, in 18 years of marriage and 20 years as a couple, I have never forgotten her birthday.  But we wanted to see Atlantic City before it went away.  All I knew about the City is what I had seen on Rounders, and on the remake of Ocean's Eleven (Clooney, Pitt, et. al.).  I knew Trump had some casinos there, and Caesars, and I knew there was a Golden Nugget there, and it was from them I received an offer.

It wasn't a great offer as those things go, 20% off the room rate but it was enough to whet my appetite so we decided to find a flight.

First problem.  Back then United Airlines hadn't yet made the stupid business decision to start a flight from Houston to Atlantic City (in return for gate considerations at Newark) so if we wanted to fly direct we would be stuck flying Spirit Airlines.  Yuck.  There was, however, a loophole, so with a direct flight to and from Philadelphia, and plans to catch the train to Atlantic City, we took off on a trip that would change how I, and my wife, gambled forever.

Plane rides don't bother me, so we had fun.  During those years both the wife and I had status so we both copped upgrades to first class and were halfway lit by the time we arrived at PHL. We were only staying three days so I didn't have a bag to check, but my wife did, so we grabbed her bag and shot off to catch the next to last train to Atlantic City.

Which we made, with 30 seconds to spare.  We purchased the ticket in our seats from the porter and settled in for around a 90 minute ride.  As I stated before, the wife loves trains. Since she lived on one for two years while working with the circus she enjoyed the ride. I got somewhat bored (it was dark, so you couldn't see anything outside of the windows) but we made it and then hailed a cab from the train station to the Nugget, which is (unfortunately, for why you'll read later) some way away from the Boardwalk.

We got in and hit the bar. Hard. I then proceeded to take out my first night's money and blow it all playing slots. "That was fast" I told my wife, and we agreed not to gamble any more until the next day.  We had some more rounds, chatted with the bartenders and then went to sleep.

In the morning (honestly) we woke up and it was raining, but we really wanted to head to the Boardwalk so we put on our drip-dries and went to find the jitney.  We did, and we were off.  Our first stop was the Trump Taj Majal.

In short, and I'm not being political here, it was a disgusting dump. Half of the slot machines were out of order and the ones that were working were old and filthy. It looked as if the casino hadn't been cleaned in 50 years. On top of that, most of the bars were closed. Not having my typical morning Bloody Mary was going to be an issue.  But, we found a place to eat breakfast and decided to head over to The Borgata, and Revel.

Here's what I remember about the Revel, it was a beautiful property, laid out terribly, and the slots were brutally tight. In fact, ALL of the Atlantic City slots that we played seemed to be unusually tight. It was like pouring gasoline on a brush fire every time we added money. My wife, who is very risk averse and hates gambling (but enjoys going to casinos) quit after losing $40 in just under 10 minutes. By the time we had reached 3PM on our first day there I was down $300 with little hope of getting it back the way things were going.  I had $200 left for two days, and I had promised myself I was NOT going to be hitting up the ATM this trip.

Then, something miraculous happened.  I won.  Not a ton of money but enough to get me into the positive for the first time in a long time.  We had sat down at a bar in Borgata and ordered a round of drinks.  Looking for something to do I put $40 in a video poker machine, the first time I had played since I had the win at Mandalay.  Other than that I hadn't played. I had seen it played, talked about it with friends who played, and had even watched people play it while sitting at bars, and as a live poker player I understood it, but you could throw things such as basic strategy out the window.

But I won.  It was while playing twenty-five cent "Double Double Bonus" and I got dealt 4-two's with a 3-kicker. $500.00. I hadn't hit anything that big since my visit to Delta Downs. I glanced at my wife, hit "cash out" and we spent the rest of the day walking to the various casinos on the Boardwalk, signing up for their players cards and playing off the free-play for new signups when we found it.

On the 3rd day there I gave some (not all) of it back.  By the time we had left however I still had over $400 in my pocket which I was planning on giving back to the bank when we got home.  After the win I continued playing video poker, with my wife's blessing, except at the casinos that gave us slot free play that is.  On the whole of course, after the hit, I lost. But the rate of loss was smaller, and slower, than I was used to playing slots which convinced me that there might just be something to this whole video poker thing.

All in all I remember the Boardwalk not for the crappy casinos, or the good food (there is a lot of that, especially the pizza) what I remember the most is sitting in a bar inside the Borgata and winning something at a casino game for the first time in a long time.  For a brief, fleeting second, I was ahead of the casinos on a trip and I wanted that feeling again.  For the first time I realized that gambling outside of the poker room could be affected by skill (except for slots of course). I realized on that trip that in order to continue to play consistently, I was going to have to get a hell of a lot better at playing the good games in order to make my bankroll last longer.

I almost didn't have time to learn those lessons however.  Because on our way back to the Nugget, on the jitney, while driving through one of Atlantic City's neighborhoods several windows in our little bus were broken by locals throwing rocks at us. One of the rocks missed our head by a foot or so and landed in the seat in front of us. The driver promptly floored it, and we returned to the Golden Nugget where we stayed up all night drinking and thinking "whew! that was close".  The next morning we caught our train at 6AM, rode to PHL where we caught our flight home. Tired, a little freaked out, but glad to be putting money in the bank for a change.

After getting home, and depositing back the money, I promptly went to Barnes and Noble and bought my first book on gambling.

But I'll save that tale for Part VI.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

College Football: Why Tom Herman might *not* be so willing to leave Houston.

In the wake of the Big X XII Conference' decision to not expand to 12 teams the pundits are already declaring University of Houston head coach Tom Herman to be out the door.

To quote Mr. Lee Corso "Not so fast my friend".

As a caveat, I also think it's likely that Herman leaves for greener pastures after this season. I think some big school is going to offer him so much money he'll over look all of the problems he's going to have to overcome.  But, when it comes down to it, there are only two programs (as of now) who have job openings that I would consider marked upgrades from UH and each opportunity comes with a ton of warts.

But first there are Herman's own words: He's stated a fondness for staying at UH over marginal Power 5 jobs. "Why be a small fish in a big pond" etc. etc.  The fact is schools like Purdue can probably just sit this one out. It doesn't hurt to ask, but there are other coaches who I think are better fits for your programs.

With that in mind let's look at the Power 5 openings that could or will be, or are available.

Texas: I think we can all agree that Charlie Strong is going to be out of there at the end of the year. The loss to OU sealed his fate. While most everyone agrees that Herman would take this there are some compelling reasons why he might think twice.  For one, the Culture and Atmosphere at the 40 acres is a "cesspool" to quote Kirk Herbstreit.  While UT-Austin fans are angry over that it's partially because Mr. Herbstreit is right.  Red McCombs and the other boosters that are currently running things are running them into the ground.  Yes, UT-Austin has money, resources, facilities and recruiting advantages that are 2nd to none. In fact, when they're right I think they are a top 5 job. Right now though I'd stay far away until a strong AD comes in and straightens out the ship.

LSU: First off, and I'm sorry to break this to you Tiger fans, LSU is NOT a "top 5 job". I realize that you constantly fool yourself by saying this but it's not true.  Is being the head man in Baton Rogue a Top 10 job? Probably, but the school is currently lower on money than Sears and the situation is getting worse every day. Add to this the fact that AD Alluva is a garbage fire and you have a situation that could be untenable long-term.  The history of LSU has been good runs, followed trips to long, dark places. They could be on the edge of that precipice right now.

Mississippi State: Simple: No, just no. I don't see any way Herman takes a job at the school in the SEC West with the smallest budget, worst facilities, and hopes of only competing for a title once every 4 or 5 years. The Bulldog's best bet is to try and keep Dan Mullen.

Notre Dame: Not near the job it was in the past nor will it ever be in the future.  I think we're seeing the slow decline of ND football in it's infancy, as the program will continue to slip away from being the National Power it's always been, and will eventually join a Power 4 conference and become a middling conference player, being forced to "give up" all of it's "traditional rivalry" games that it's used to pad it's record with for years now. It wouldn't hurt them to try and woo David Shaw however. I think he could do some good there.

Oregon: When a school like Oregon starts to lose it, it can go away fast and it's often very difficult to get back.  Yes, they have tons of Nike money and facilities that are unmatched in the Nation, but they lack a natural recruiting base and there will always be the specter of USC hanging over their shoulder. This is another school that I think is travelling to a deep, dark place and it will take more than neon uniforms to dig them back out of it again.  By the by: I think they should take a long, hard look at PJ Fleck.

I could easily envision a situation where Herman decides to hang around UH for a while, build the team into a Group of 5 power, and then head back home to USC when they finally pull the plug on Son of Love Coach.  He's from that area and whether you like them or not, the House of Troy is a top 5 job.

Still, Herman could end up at one of these other schools and he could be successful there, but I'm not sure he's going to have the natural advantages he has in Houston at any of them other than UT-Austin, but I'm worried the well in Austin is just too poisoned.  Other than there, I'm not all that certain the path to the CFP is easier anywhere else than it is at Houston.  Just quit losing that one curious game every season.

College Football: The Week 8 FIVE (Probably should have retired on a win streak)

So last week, for the first time this season, if you faded my FIVE picks you're a LOSER!!!! (Kidding, you're still way, WAY up if you fade me for the year)

Suck it with my just over .500 finish. (3-2, 11-28-1 for the year)

But hey, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger (albeit less financially well off) and, despite my better judgement, I'm plowing ahead this week, hoping beyond hope that I can pull this season out of the sizzling fat of failure.

I've got a diverse set of games for the FIVE this week.

1. Old Dominion @ Western Kentucky (-13.5) I would really prefer it if I could get this game at -14 or better, but I'll take a good Old Dominion team getting almost two touchdowns against a less-good than their reputation Hilltoppers team. ODU 24 WKU 30. Old Dominion to cover -13.5.

2. East Carolina @ Cincinnati (-1.5) Yes, the Pirates are on a 4-game losing streak but the Bearcats are in full meltdown mode after a horrible looking 20-9 loss against UConn. Cincinnati had everything going for it in terms of their program, and then they hired Tommy Tuberville. ECU 24 Cincy 20. ECU to win on the ML.

3. Oklahoma (-14) @ Texas Tech. But....the game is in LUBBOCK! you say.  That's fine, but the Red Raiders "best" home win so far is against a pedestrian Louisiana Tech team, and last week they got boat raced by West Virginia at home.  OU is starting to roll with Dede Westbrook healthy and catching seemingly everything. Tech's defense is still awful. OU 45 Tech 17. OU to cover -14.

4. Ole Miss @ LSU (-6). Before we get into game analysis, a moment of silence for Mike VI.......Thank you. LSU needs to run the ball to be successful, and Ole Miss' defense is pretty decent at stopping that. I think Coach O gets the win, at an emotional Death Valley, but I think this is a field goal game. Ole Miss 21 LSU 24. Ole Miss to cover -6.

5. Arkansas @ Auburn (-9.5). After a rough start to the season Auburn is looking better, and Arkansas two losses are to Alabama and aTm respectively. The higher this line moves toward Auburn, the better of a bet it becomes however. Two pretty good teams facing off here. Arkansas 27 Auburn 30. Arkansas to cover -9.5.

Other games under consideration:

Miami @ Virginia Tech (-6). I like the U to bounce back here.  The U 27 Va Tech 24.

BYU @ Boise State (-7). If the light-scheduling Broncos don't lose here, I'm not sure they lose. BYU 20 Boise State 27.

Oregon @ Cal (-3). The loser gets the crown of the most disappointing team in the PAC-12. If Oregon loses Helfrich is all but gone. Might even be if they win. UO 45 Cal 38.

Wisconsin (-3.5) @ Iowa. I almost included this in my FIVE. I think Iowa is a paper tiger. Wisc 21 Iowa 3.

NC State @ Louisville (-19). Another game I almost included in my FIVE, but I don't trust NC State at all. NCSU 14 Louisville 35.

Texas @ K-State (-3). Some are calling this a "must-win" for Strong. I disagree, I think the decision to fire him has already been made. UT-Austin 13 K-State 27.

Colorado @ Stanford (-2). What is wrong with the Cardinal? Buffs 27 Stanford 20.

Memphis (-2.5) @ Navy. The University of Houston will be scoreboard watching. Memphis 28 Navy 24.

TCU @ West Virginia (-6.5). At some point people think TCU will become themselves again. I think we're seeing what they are this year. TCU 9 WVU 39.

Eastern Michigan @ Western Michigan (-23.5). The feel-good story of the year visits one of the best group of 5 programs of the year. Not as ugly as everyone thinks. EMU 20 WMU 35.

Houston (-21) @ SMU. The best thing about SMU is their new "city skyline" logo. UH 42 SMU 14.

Michigan State (-2.5) @ Maryland. The Maryland defense makes glaciers look fast in comparison. Sparty 20 Maryland 17.

Ohio State (-19.5) @ Penn State. Yay, another "white out" game. At some point the Buckeyes are going to get it figured out. I think it's here. OSU 56 Penn State 6.

Washington State (-7) @ Arizona State. Toss up game. Whichever team shows up. Wazzu 56 ASU 54.

The big game of the weekend:

Texas A&M @ Alabama (-18.5). I'm not sure if there's a (plausible) line big enough to make me risk money on the Aggies.  That said, I was wrong about them this year, they're a good team.  But I still think Bama is going to truck them at home. Texas aTm 6 Bama 42.

The teams I root for:

Colorado State @ UNLV (-3). The Rebels are favored here. This is not a drill. Like last week the NEED this game or all hopes of making a bowl are kaput. I think they get it against a pretty awful Rams team.  CSU 13 UNLV 31.

Illinois @ Michigan (-35.5). The lines for Michigan this year have been ridiculous. Sure I think the Wolverines CAN win by more than five touchdowns, but I don't think they WILL win by that much.  That said I don't think the Illini CAN score against a motivated Wolverines defense.  If they do score it will be in garbage time.  Illinois 3 Michigan 38.

Good luck and enjoy the games this weekend.

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