Well, we’ve come to college football week 8. The blush, as they say, is off the bouquet and we’re fully in-season. If you’re me, that means three things: 1) The Oregon Ducks can disappoint you by losing AND winning. 2) Aforementioned Ducks are projected for the Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 18 which means my Christmas present to myself will be making mistakes in Vegas the week before I have to face my extended family and 3) There’s a good shot no Pac-12 team will be in the ‘final four’ or the playoff or whatever which brings me back to my original argument against the four-team ‘playoff’ format last year. That it’s not a playoff as much as it is an arbitrary jumble of who had the easiest schedule (I’m looking at you Big 12 and ACC).
That’s right Kyle, while I’m totally alright with Ohio State, Alabama, Utah and…OK, Baylor—sure— being in that rarefied field; the prospect of waking up New Year’s Day to watch smackdowns of TCU vs. Clemson and FSU vs. Baylor is giving me the night sweats worse than menopause. I mean, a quartet like that is worse than anything the BCS ever brought and the BCS brought plenty of bad. And to be clear, the playoff system wasn’t as much the NCAA doing away with the BCS as it was a rebranding of it and creating a single-elimination game within the construct of the same bowl system.
Yes Kyle, you hear a lot here–but you’re hearing this here first: If the FBS quartet of chosen ones doesn’t shake down to this year to include a Pac-12 (even a one-loss program) a SEC (ditto), a B1G school then the whole thing’s for naught. I never thought I’d be an apologist for the SEC, but there you go. Also, this is where I usually plug the Pac-12 as the strongest top-to-bottom division, but I’ll back off a bit from that this year (if only because I’m not sure Cal’s not going to fold under the pressure of newfound expectation, UCLA and their Rosen One—for now—has come back down to earth, everyone’s onto Oregon, Chris Peterson’s Huskies are still pretenders, USC needs Eric Taylor stat and Stanford is the most mediocre on paper but apparently the best of the lot this side of SLC….)
So I’ll sub that out with the B1G being the real conference of record this year. Iowa looks like their front seven can out-swim you and then close down a Golden Corral by emptying out its walk-in before the end of the lunch shift. Michigan State has Michael Landon on the sidelines willing them to something-beyond-explanation. Ohio State keeps winning in spite of looking completely disinterested in holding onto the football. Michigan is formidable once more and Penn State and Northwestern, though fading from the conversation, are in any given half though rarely two in a row, the best programs in the country.
So week eight to me means one thing: I’m running out of time. I’m running out of time for any team with the tiger as a mascot to lose. I’m running out of time for TCU to start running out of magic tricks. I’m running out of time to be able to keep ignoring Baylor. I’m running out of time to hope that Cal and UCLA don’t ever have to play one another… basically, Kyle, I’m running out of time to believe that I’ll have any interest in college football after…what date was that again? Oh yeah, Dec. 18.
Steady on, old boy. Things look bleak today, sure. But that’s because everybody is just kind of circling each other right now. There’s only one ranked-on-ranked matchup this weekend. It’s the deep breath before the dive and the fistfight over who’ll determine the final four come December.
Look, we’ve still got TCU-Baylor on the schedule (and hell, matchups for both teams with undefeated Oklahoma State in upcoming weeks), Bama-LSU, Michigan State-Ohio State, Clemson-FSU and a handful of other showdowns that’ll introduce a little chaos into the system and open it up for the real cream to rise to the top, hopefully from the conferences you mentioned. We’re in a holding pattern right now, but soon enough the knives will come back out and we’ll get to whittling.
I of course say all this with the undeserved pompous air of a man who’s found temporary serenity. Last week I was a mess before MSU-Michigan. My Spartans were an underdog to the Wolverines and I have to eat copious amounts of crow anytime State loses these days. I spend weeks shitting on Michigan and its fanbase and the immediate period after every victory going through my phone and texting/calling to harass every UM fan I know. My personal Facebook page has been a sore winner’s handbook this week. Owning up to all this shit-talking is almost more frightening at this point than an MSU loss. I know coach Mark Dantonio will prepare even his thin squads (which are few and far between these days) to have a puncher’s chance against any B1G opponent. But with Michigan coming on far ahead of schedule under Jim Harbaugh, I clammed up last week. I didn’t really say much to my UM buddies ahead of the matchup. All my paranoia–the inferiority complex that got baked in so much as a child, before the Tom Izzo and Dantonio regimes made it obsolete–hung heavy over the proceedings. I ‘watched’ most of the second-half from my phone, too nervous to acknowledge that the rivalry was really back, and with any rivalry there is a good chance of ending up on the losing end for it to count. I didn’t really believe the final score until the third or fourth time I saw Jalen Watts-Jackson tote the rock into the endzone on replay. Then I lost my shit.
Now, with an exposed Indiana squad on the schedule (though I’m not totally looking past them), I view the landscape currently with a plutocrat’s indifference to a bread line, rather than the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I grounded viewpoint I should be adopting.
The way I see it, leagues with soft underbellies like the Big 12 and ACC get one or two games to prove their worth before the committee (if it’s just.) That’s it. Baylor, TCU, FSU and Clemson’s margins for error are so much more comparatively slight than one of the big boys from the Pac 12, SEC or B1G who will come in to state their merits bruised and panting. Again, we’re relying on the justice of an organization known for its capriciousness in the NCAA, but last year’s selection seemed pretty pragmatic. So, since your fears aren’t totally unfounded, maybe start rooting for Mike ‘I’M A MAN’ Gundy and his 30-plus points per game offense to lob grenades at Baylor and TCU in November. Clemson should Clemson by then and we all know that September-October Everett Golson can be a very different beast than November-December Everett Golson. Keep the faith, my friend.
Thanks for bringing me back. I feel like this is my Reuben Tishkoff (<–why isn’t Elliott Gould in every movie from now till he dies?) from Ocean’s 13 moment when he thanks Don Cheadle’s Basher Tarr for “Bringing (him) back.” You know, “the moment you become embarrassed of who you are, you lose yourself. I changed my house, the way I dressed, the way I ate—for what? For nothing.”
So yeah, I’m gonna be me. Gonna re-find myself in time to re-enact my Vegas Bowl performance of 1997 where I yelled profanities at a horse cop because he was a cop…on a horse; got asked nicely, then not so nicely, to leave Sam Boyd stadium after using the track to do laps for no reason during the third quarter; once outside, found (yes, actually ‘found’) an abandoned beer tent where the kegs were still tapped and drank my fill with about a half-dozen buddies and a homeless Paiute and then ended up (on a dare…I think the dare was something like: ‘I think you should swim across the Treasure Island moat’) swimming across the Treasure Island moat. It was glorious. And I’ll be not embarrassed of my best/worst self cheering on the best/worst version of the Ducks come December should the c-list bowl game stars align.
More importantly, you restored my faith (a wee bit) in the system. In the also-rans and should’ve-beens sorting themselves out over the next three or four weeks. Of course Clemson is going to lose and TCU is going to get dropkicked and Baylor will stumble. Of course LSU shows its true colors against an overachieving Hilltoppers squad (more on that below) and of course Utah runs the table as Wittingham refuses to be denied. Right? Right?
And even if he doesn’t, I still have about 10 more days of fall baseball. And then, I don’t know what then. I kind of feel the same way about this baseball season as I do Amy Winehouse. Like I kind of took it for granted while it was here and now that it’s about to leave I’m discovering its true genius. As the years grind on, I will recall it with fondness, in spite of—or maybe because of—the Cubs’ somewhat early seeming exit this magic and transformative MLB season that was.
With that, a couple college football picks building up to my big finale—the WS pick:
Utah State -7.5 @ San Diego State
Utah State is fresh off a
win whoopin’ ass at home vs. Boise, almost upset in-state rival and future no. 1 Utah and lost a closer-than-it-looked slugfest to a schizophrenic Huskies squad who seemingly have given up on Chris Peterson this year more publicly than the showrunners of season 2 of How to Make it in America. San Diego and their raft of young talent got taken to task by Fresno State but eventually prevailed. Though both schools are atop their respective Mountain West Divisions (SD – The Mountain West – West and Utah State – The Mountain West – Mountain) it is the Big Blues that will give the Aztecs a clue (get it?) about who’s the real contender Friday night. Even Utah State coach Matt Wells admits his Aggies are “in the driver’s seat” in the Mountain Division race. The reason: Utah State can score, fast. The three of you who have the kink-sounding FSNMW will recall they were up early 10-3 against BSU in the first quarter and then for whatever reason decided to turn Doc Brown’s afterburners on (sorry, had to do one #BTFweek reference) at Maverik Stadium to jump up to a 45-10 halftime lead before putting it back to cruise at 67. SDSU has a couple of seasoned DBs that could slow the Blue’s air attack ever so slightly but their front seven isn’t nearly as physical (what’s with Utah being the source for linemen of late?) and I expect a 20-point lead to surface by the third quarter.
Western Kentucky +17 @ LSU
Sort of meat dangling from the bettors’ tree with a hidden net under it here but I’m taking the bait and the spread. LSU could well open it up in the second half and take the W by 24ish points. But I’m not banking on it. It’s not so much that this is a classic ‘trap game’ (it is) but it’s that Western Kentucky (6-1) is legit. Look no further than future fourth-rounder/Pro Bowler Brandon Doughty (who reminds me of Daughtry, which is awful). Doughty who’s like 37 (6th-year senior) has his 6-1 Hilltoppers rolling atop Conference USA (<–which I, no joke, actually used to think was a semi-pro football league owned by the USA Network). Doughty led FBS last year with more than 4,800 yards in the air and 49 touchdowns and already has more than 2,700 yards on his bedpost this year with 24 teeders. Whoa. And guess what? LSU’s secondary is uncharastically awful this year. Granted, the Tigs get senior free safety Jalen Mills (fractured fibula) back this week after almost a year rehabbing, but don’t expect him to bulldoze in this SEC snoozer. Hilltoppers may not come out of Baton Rouge with a W, but they should provide the faithful with plenty-a-pre-Halloween scare.
All right, Kyle. My WS pick on the other side.
Ah-ha! Props for digging into the Mountain West. I see your second-tier West Coast football and raise you a little #MACtion…
Bowling Green -14 @ Kent State
A warm-ish, rainy afternoon is in store for Kent, Ohio Saturday as the 3-4, 2-1 Golden Flashes try to knock 5-2, 3-0 Bowling Green out of sole ownership of first place in the MAC’s Eastern Division. There should be about 5,000 people in the stands, and the Flashes are going to have a hard time of it. While Bowling Green has done a majority of its offensive damage through the air this season (24 TDs passing vs. 17 rushing) it’s still a competent rushing team (4.1 yards per rush, 50% conversion rate on 3rd downs), which is a key factor on slippery days. Add to it the fact that Bowling Green leads the league in turnovers and points off turnovers at 112 and its generally terrible defense almost negates its inability to stop anybody (they give up 32.6 ppg). The Falcons are 5-2 ATS this season and KSU is 3-4, so that about wraps it for me.
Indiana @ Michigan State Under 62
The 4-3 Hoosiers are averaging just 20 points on the road this season and have lost three straight since surging to a somewhat conspicuous perfect record heading into their loss to Ohio State three weeks ago. A game in the October rain in East Lansing is no place to cure ills. The Spartans are coming off their most exhilarating win this season but have cracked 35 points just twice this year and (last week excepted) haven’t been getting much help via takeaways or special teams. I look for a low-scoring affair with the Spartans playing keepaway with the ball. They force fumbles at a high rate (12 with 6 takeaways) and reciprocate by not turning the ball over much at all (just 3 TOs this season.) AJ, when the weather turns in EL, they’ve got the perfect answer with an offense that controls the ball by more than a four-minute margin and converts nearly half of their third downs.
Kansas @ Oklahoma State -35
Vegas is begging, pleading, down-on-their-knees for you to bet 0-6 Kansas, a team that is 2-4 ATS this season and getting mollywhopped by everyone from Lubbock to Brookings, SD. They’ll point to an almost respectable Jayhawks 20-30 loss against Texas Tech last week. Peel the onion back a layer further, though, and look at that 66-7 stinker against Baylor at home the week before. That’s your instructive moment for this game, as Baylor and Oklahoma State are a little more analogous. The Pokes are 6-0 and rolling at this point in the season. They’ve amassed 25 sacks, led by DE Emmanuel Ogbah with 8 for a total opponent loss of 37 yards. Kansas has given up a little more than 2 sacks a game and lost a total of 113 yards. They convert on third downs just 39 percent of the time and manage just 132 rushing yards per game, so OSU’s defense will be teeing off on Jayhawks QB Ryan Willis. Hide the women and children in Lawrence.
Texas A&M +5.5 @ Ole Miss
AJ, it’s gotta be disheartening to live in Oxford these days. The script is so vile: Hugh Freeze assembles the defense from hell, said defense wins the September National Championship then starts blowing chunks at some point in October. Rinse, repeat. 5-1 A&M rides into town after a loss to Alabama that was rough but nowhere near as gut-wrenching as the 5-2 Rebels’ 37-24 stomping at the hands of Memphis last week. Grisham doesn’t write Southern tragedies that vicious. It’s got all the hallmarks of last season’s late-season free-fall, where the Rebs went 2-4 in their last six. Neither team really has momentum, but nobody falls apart with the panache that Ole Miss does. The Rebs got murdered in time of possession last week by nearly 14 minutes, struggled to cover kickoffs and gave up two huge interceptions. They’re showing all the signs of a team falling apart, and I fully expect Kevin Sumlin to take advantage.
Alright AJ, we’ve both been enthralled by baseball’s postseason, who ya got?
Mets in 5
The 2010 Giants went into the World Series as underdogs against the power-pitching, spray-hitting and smooth-fielding Texas Rangers. The Giants enjoyed home-field advantage and quickly notched game one with back-to-back Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum taking his still-elastic body to task against country hardballer and fellow Cy Younger Cliff Lee. It was a couple walks in the fifth that set up Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff to hit back-to-back singles which knocked Lee out of the box during an eventual six-run inning and set the tone for the Giants to take the series in five, clinching at Texas.
Why do I bring up 2010? Because the 2015 Mets are the EXACT SAME TEAM as the 2010 Giants. They’ve got
three four of the best pitchers in baseball. Cagey veteran Matt Harvey, exactly two years removed from Tommy John, in the role of Matt Cain. And young guns Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland Jacob deGrom and Noah Snydergaard are the 2.0 versions of Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecom. Throw in reliable like a ’90s Honda Accord Steven Matz, AARP coverboy Bartolo Colon and a bullpen anchored by Mr. Steady Acquisition Tyler Clippard (see: Jeremy Affeldt/Javier Lopez) and baseball’s best current closer Jeurys Familia (see: Brian Wilson) and, well, there you go.
Do I even need to talk about the miracle bat of Daniel Murphy or the emergence of Michael Cuddyer or the Robin Williams-with-a-beard-in-a-dramatic-role-style awakening of Curtis Granderson? No. No, I don’t. Because baseball in the last decade has transitioned to such a pitcher-centric sport in the playoffs, I’ve decided that #hitterslivesmatter should start trending; especially in light of the Cubs’ demolition.
But if you must press it a step further, Terry Collins is up there with Boch and Matheny as the game’s current best between the lines and is about to join Davey Johnson and Gil Hodges as the only Mets managers to win it all. He’s got the young and dumb arms. He’s got the nice mix of veteran bats and wily position players and he’s got the reverse-home-field-advantage that has propelled the NL to take five of the last seven world titles. Split the first two on the road, take two of three (or maybe all three at home) then split on the road if necessary. AL teams don’t seem to enjoy the advantage of hosting with a DH as much as they’re affected by the disadvantage of having to manage around it on the road and neither Ned Yost nor John Gibbons seem to have much going on in the way of strategery other than shrugging and saying, “We’ll just put our best nine out there and see what happens.”
Or, let me put it like this. You’re arriving back at Citifield down two games and your reward is…facing Matt Harvey. Hell, both deGrom and Snydergaard can go on one-day’s rest. Ask Bumgarner and Lincecum and Cain what’s worse, shortening your career by three years by throwing out your arm in the post-season or having to weigh that same arm down with a trio of rings for the rest of your life.
Kyle, I know you’re an AL apologist, so now it’s your turn to take us home telling me about how Cueto and Ventura or a murders’ row of LaBatts-swilling Canucks can derail this battery from Queens.
It’s tough to know how this will shake out before we know who wins the AL (HEDGE ALERT!), but of course I’m going with the junior circuit’s representative. Why? Because I know, all too well, what happens when a team has a long layoff heading into the finale. The Detroit Tigers were the first team to clinch a berth in both 2006 and 2012 (leading to 7 and 6 day layoffs, respectively) and it didn’t work out too well. The Mets clinched their spot on Wednesday and will have to wait until Tuesday to play again.
At worst, the Royals will have just three off days until the showdown starts, at best, Toronto or KC goes into the series with just two off days. That means the hitters keep their all-important rhythm and no pitchers face potential 8-10 days off between work in the cool late October air.
The Mets have been on a hell of a run, but now it’s been disrupted. There are no sliders with bad intentions for Daniel Murphy to golf to the moon. There are no hitters standing in against Jacob deGrom’s vile-ass stuff. Look for an AL team to come in, with their lathered-up home fans in games 1 & 2, and put the Mets on their heels. AL in six.
The PNP Recap
Overall: 12 for 24
Texas A&M +5.5 @ Ole Miss
Kansas @ Oklahoma State -35
Indiana @ Michigan State Under 62
Bowling Green -14 @ Kent State
AL in six
Overall: 13 for 18 (one tie)
Utah State -7.5 @ San Diego State
Western Kentucky +17 @ LSU
Mets in 5