Welcome to Take the Points. I took a bye week from my picks last week, but now I'm back. I'm well-rested, my injuries have healed, I’ve put in extra time in the film room and I'm ready for week 11. This is a very strange week. We've got three massive games, two of which fall on Thursday night for some unknown reason. I guess the NCAA was sick of seeing "Parks & Recreation" steal their thunder. Then we have a handful of other games that, while far less interesting, could still have an impact on conference championships. Because this week is so unorthodox, I want to focus on the three big games, and then I'll give some quick picks for a few others.
THE ADULT'S TABLE
If you can get Oklahoma plus 15 against anyone, you have to take it. This would be an appropriate line for Oklahoma vs. Alabama, but not for this game. As much as I like Baylor, they're still somewhat unproven, and their first real challenge of the season also happens to come against the Big 12's premiere program. (Sorry, Texas.) That's like having your first real date be with Kate Upton. No matter how smooth you are, that's too much pressure. I'm not saying the Bears can't win, I'm just saying that I'll be very surprised if they win by 16. If that happens, there's no point in playing the rest of the Big 12 season. Just pencil Baylor into the Fiesta Bowl and everyone else can start their winter break.
Tough call. I went back and forth on this one.
The memory of Oregon tearing through the 2012 season and then getting shut down by Stanford is still etched into my brain. I'm like the guy from Memento. I try to remember what happened in previous match-ups, but I can only recall the last 15 months. Luckily we have Google. This rivalry is traditionally a lot higher scoring than you would think. Over the last five years, Oregon has averaged 39.2 points and Stanford has averaged 31.4. That's right bitches, I just did math. Oregon also has the edge in victories, winning in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Stanford was victorious in 2009, and of course in last year's overtime thriller.
So what about this year?
Well, Oregon is better than ever. The Ducks have never had a quarterback like Marcus Mariota, and thanks to him, they're better-rounded on offense than in previous seasons. They have tremendous skill players as usual, and the defense is much improved.
Stanford doesn't amaze people like Oregon, but they continue to win against quality opponents. The defense is stout and QB Kevin Hogan has been… umm… acceptable. The anomaly, or Anna Molly as the band Incubus would say, was their loss to Utah a couple weeks ago. It surprised a lot of people, but when you look at the Cardinal schedule, it’s understandable. They play tough games every weekend. It's so much more difficult to succeed when you're playing quality opponents week after week. That's what makes Alabama so impressive. Unlike say Florida State, who sandwiches their three challenging showdowns in-between a month of games versus Idaho and Phoenix Online. Stanford played Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, Utah, UCLA and Oregon State without a cupcake or a week off.
I think this is the week where Stanford finally breaks. I like Oregon to win this game, and I like the outcome to revert back to what this game had been for the four seasons leading up to last year's low-scoring affair. I think it'll start out with a few mistakes, and remain tight through halftime. Stanford's D is still great, and the Palo Alto crowd should propel the Cardinal to a solid early performance. But Oregon is just too good. They're the most talented team in the country save for Alabama, and no matter what they say, they're focused on revenge. I'm predicting a close game at half, a slightly less close game after three quarters, and a pull-away touchdown somewhere near the 8-minute mark of the fourth. I know it's tough to lay this many points in a top ten game, but trust me, betting against Oregon and Mariota is the most surefire way to give yourself a heart attack. Even if you win, you won't be able to collect, cause you'll be dead. And I'm pretty sure Obamacare doesn't cover spread-offense-related fatality. Save a life, bet on the Ducks. Quack quack.
Oregon 47, Stanford 29.
Alabama -12.5 over LSU
The nice thing about Alabama is, when it comes to gambling, they don't give you a choice. You either bet on Bama, or you're an idiot. Now, looking at this line, my immediate reaction is that it's too high, and that in the biggest modern-day rivalry in college football, a spirited LSU team will keep it close. So I think about taking the points and the Tigers. But then I ask myself, "Am I an idiot?" And the answer is no. Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly a genius, but I did manage to graduate high school and college despite studying only 20 minutes over eight years. Then I became a music writer, taught myself how to code and got a job at Connecticut's most prominent media company. Plus I invented a burger that has a cut-up hot dog on top of it*. So I like to think I'm pretty smart. Therefore I can't bet against the Tide. I guess my advice to everyone would be, if you think Alabama will dominate this game, lay the points and rely on Saban's robot-like precision and lack of a beating heart. If you like LSU, stay away, keep quiet, and if the Tigers somehow pull off an upset, go out in purple and yellow on Sunday and make fun of every Bama fan you know.
Alabama 42, LSU 23
*I call it a Zeleznock. You cut the hot dog in half lengthwise, then widthwise, and lay the four hot dog quadrants on top of the burger. It goes as follows, from bottom to top: bun, ketchup, burger, cheese, hot dog, mustard, bun. It's my greatest life accomplishment, and that includes graduating college and getting engaged.
THE KID'S TABLE
Louisville -5000 vs. UConn - STAY AWAY
OK, so the actual line is -27.5, but it started at -28, which means PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY BETTING ON UCONN. These people need a gambling intervention, ASAP. Listen, I agree, four touchdowns is too much for a Louisville team that's been very underwhelming this season, but betting on UConn under any circumstance is like getting behind the wheel of a car that's on fire. It doesn't matter if you only need to drive a couple blocks, you're still insane.
I like Texas Tech. They've had a couple tough games in a row, but they do have talent and now they get a semi-reprieve against Kansas State. By the way, does everyone realize Kliff Kingsbury is single? He's 34 years old, he looks like Ryan Gosling and he's a well-respected head football coach in the Big 12. Now that Adam Levine is married, Kingsbury has to be America's #1 bachelor. No wonder this guy can call 80 plays a game. It's nothing compared to all the girls he has to call after the game.
I don’t know what to think of Minnesota this season. The Gophers are 7-2, and they’ve beaten a couple halfway-decent teams, but they also lost to Iowa and got smashed by a mediocre Michigan team. Maybe they’re playing well as a tribute Jerry Kill. Maybe their linemen have been packing on pounds to prepare for winter hibernation and now defenses can’t get around them. I don’t know. I’m not a sports psychologist. I do understand this Penn State team, however. They lack depth and they’re short on talent, but they play hard every game. Whenever they’re severely overmatched, i.e. against Ohio State, they get crushed. When they’re evenly matched, i.e. last week against Illinois, they keep it close. Christian Hackenberg improves with each game, and PSU also has an up-and-coming receiving corps. (Allen Robinson is great and tight end Jesse James is one of my favorites. “Just because you tackled Jesse James, that don’t make you Jesse James.”) Remember what I said earlier about betting on Alabama until they lose? This is the opposite. Minnesota is the Big Ten doormat until proven otherwise. Take the points.
Oklahoma State’s offense is like a fine wine that keeps getting better. The Jayhawk defense is like a high school girl chugging a bottle of Arbor Mist. Lots of points.
Arizona vs. UCLA - OVER 57
Two PAC-12 schools in the desert equals a shootout. UCLA has been held in check two of the past three weeks, but that’s because they were facing really good defenses. This week, against Rich Rod and his defense-is-optional coaching policy, all bets are off. Prepare for a 48-42 barnburner.
Fresno State -10 over Wyoming
Fresno is this year’s Northern Illinois. They’re going to go undefeated, end up ranked #16, sneak into a BCS bowl and lose by 50 to Baylor. The Bulldogs only have three games left. I’m riding them the rest of the way.
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