Pints and Picks week 13: Rivalry Week is a bettor’s Black Friday

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Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and what to drink while doing it. This week: #rivalryweek:

maginIAJ,

My neighbor is a big USC fan, owing to his upbringing. We frequently commiserate over college football while our dogs chase one another and sniff rear ends. I am amazed at his antipathy toward UCLA, a recurring theme in our backyard chats. I shouldn’t be, because it makes sense: the two share a city, part of a recruiting base and a league. But I suppose I always assumed SC’s rival was Notre Dame, or Oregon, which has been much more competitive with the Trojans during my lifetime/awareness of West Coast sports. But he hates UCLA. A win over the Bruins would salvage a 4-loss season for him. It’d soothe the pain of national title hopes gone off the rails. That’s pretty crazy. Despite their recent string of dominance over the Trojans in the series, the Bruins haven’t been a major factor nationally by this point in a season in about 18 years. For most of the games my neighbor has ever attended or seen in his 30 years on this earth, UCLA hasn’t been a threat to USC’s national cache. From the outside looking in, the hate doesn’t make sense.

That’s a big part of what college rivalries are about. They’re sometimes sensical but mostly not. A loss in a rivalry game can destroy or make your whole week, especially if you work/study/live in proximity to an enemy fan. Throw in family ties and the togetherness Thanksgiving forces upon us and it can either enforce a tribal or bunker mentality that brings out the most spiteful urges even in the saints among us. That said, here is a ranking of the best rivalry games this weekend:

6 Iron Bowl

Because ESPN is the SEC’s official hype machine this game gets way more attention than it deserves. In its best years it decides the course of the national title chase. In most other years it’s an intrastate battle between a contender and a scrub or two scrubs, with an overblown history courtesy of the Finebaum/ESPN alliance.

5 Oregon-OSU

AJ, I’m going to put this here as a placeholder because it seems like a bit of a locals vs. imports blood feud. Care to elaborate?

4 Florida-FSU

The smarties-versus-jocks/ag kids/teacher college is a winner for stoking rivalries. Throw some accelerant on it by having two ranked teams and the Gators in the playoff chase and this should be a classic.

3 USC-UCLA

This will be, hands-down, the most pleasant place in which to register your hate this weekend. Temps are expected to be in the sixties when the Trojans and Bruins get it on at the Coliseum. This game is so great because you’re a) guaranteed to see it in a well-designed classic of a stadium (the Coliseum has hosted two Olympics and the Rose Bowl is the Rose Bowl) b) going to see USC’s song girls and c) are probably going to see oodles of NFL talent. AJ, as you’ve pointed out, SC is essentially an NFL nursery and the likes of longtime pros such as Mercedes Lewis and Troy Aikman have made their way through Westwood. The games are almost always crisply-played affairs through a combination of skill and weather and if a team gets an advantage they’ll press the living shit out of it: four of the last five games have been decided by more than two touchdowns, and what feels better than embarrassing your rival?

2 OSU-Michigan

Take a drink every time someone says ‘Woody and Bo’ and you’ll be left-eye shut, knee-walking housed by halftime. For some reason those particular names are followed by ‘are watching from Heaven and enjoying this one.’ That fully sets aside the fact that Woody Hayes was an evil asshole who struck opposing fans and players with vigor. Any Heaven that may have him is suspect. Also, do you really want to picture those two watching a game? Schembechler was a loudmouthed cuss with a grating Michigan accent (I say this as someone from Michigan) and they’d re-kill one another by halftime. It’s that hate that makes this rivalry particularly special. Born of an actual 19th century bloodless battle between militias from the two states for… Toledo… the animosity between Michiganders and Ohioans elevates whatever is happening on the field to a matter of great import. That holds true even in years when John Cooper is crashing the Buckeye program and Brady Hoke is sending kids out for their third and fourth concussions of the day. This year, both teams enter with 1 league loss and an off-chance of making the B1G title game.

1 Bedlam

Bedlam is the Big 12’s most redeeming feature. It’s an academic backwater league full of shiny oil money stadiums and Texas’ ego. That said, Big 12 games in November are how God intended football to be played. 80-plus point affairs under the lights in frosty conditions. Quarterbacks who torch secondaries and secondaries who oblige said torchings. This is the land of Sam Bradford and Brandon Weeden, who, whatever their failings at the next level, could friggin’ sling it during their days on the Great Plains. With Mike Gundy’s accent at Oklahoma State and Bob Stoops’ continued excellence at Oklahoma, Bedlam is an Ender’s Game-style war where you dare not get out of your seat for fear of missing something really spectacular. Bedlam has gone to overtime twice in the last five years and has only been decided by more than two possessions just once in that period. Gameday will be on hand in Stillwater Saturday and your TV should be, too.

pridgenIKyle,

In the fall of 1994, yes, 21 years ago to the weekend, I hitched a ride with a couple of older guys (remember when the difference between 19 and 22 might as well have been three decades?) about 45 miles north of U of O campus to Corvallis.

It was one of those things where one of my friends’ girlfriends’ best friends was dating some guy from Oregon State so we were going to go hit up his pre-game party, make our way to Reser Stadium and try to crash a little more of the after-party action. The game started around four, but we packed up my buddy’s burgundy Jeep Cherokee for an 8 a.m. start and made haste for McBreakfast before pointing it up the 5. Pretty sure we stopped for beers and snacks at the Plaid Pantry somewhere about 20 minutes into the trip and then again for round two of road sodas when we turned off the Interstate toward campus. There’s something about college and children that can stretch a 45-minute road trip into a time commitment north of a hangover Sunday viewing of Gandhi on TNT.

We rolled up to our host’s house around noon. Unlike the near-campus housing I was used to in Eugene—all wet wool sock smells and indoor wood paneling with lichen growing on it—this condo was new construction with some kind of laminate flooring that wasn’t yet broken in enough to be movie-floor sticky, sliding doors that actually slid and an un-landscaped backyard complete with a fire pit. There were various red cups scattered about like captured pawns and a beckoning beer bong dangling from a plant hook. Our host came bounding up to make our introduction and give his long-distance girl from Eugene (who we all had a crush on) a big squeeze.

My crew, a quartet of transplanted Californians, were nothing if not interlopers compared to the Oregon State students who hailed mostly from the rural parts of the state; places with worthy names like Pendleton and Hermiston. Our gracious guide, Sean “Party” Fowler was no exception. He looked like he was late for a Tim McGraw show in a black cowboy hat, matching Sunday-shiny shitkickers and just a hint of Kodiak on his breath. He welcomed us with foamy cups of outdoor-chilled Busch Light “just tapped fresh” he nodded. Along with some kind of reddish brown concoction that was supposed to be Jell-o shots but didn’t quite freeze. I liked the whole of him immediately.

His friends were warm and welcoming and spoke mostly of courses unfamiliar. The study of real stuff like animal husbandry and foundation-laying. If my mediocre liberal arts education prepared me for a job at Enterprise, they were going all Temple Grandin up in here as capable undergrads. These were men and women who knew how to do shit and, quite frankly, in my buzzed state, I was a little overwhelmed and a smidge jealous.

I only remember snippets from that day from there on. Corvallis was one giant mud bog. It was muddy in Party Fowler’s back yard. It was muddy on the walk to the game. It was muddy in the parking lot and it was muddy inside the stadium. It was muddy trudging around looking for a party that would let us in. It was muddy when I got separated from everyone. It was muddy when I walked a girl back to her house and it was muddy when I skulked around for a couple hours more after she wouldn’t let me come in. It was muddy on Party Fowler’s floor when I woke up in the morning. It was muddy on the walk back to the Cherokee.

Most of all, my memory of it was muddy especially in the gray light of the morning after. How I made it back into the house, I’ll never know. This is the day before communication came in the palm of a hand. Granted, I probably would have dropped my phone in the mud anyway.

I must have tried a half-dozen breakwaters as the sleety rain grew stronger after midnight. I even attempted to curl up on a porch swing. If only by the grace of a group of structural engineers lingering at a dying backyard party who let me warm by the fire and knew a guy matching Fowler’s description a few doors down, I found my way.

And so, Kyle, I’ve never returned to Corvallis. Not after that day. Two decades on and it lives in a convenient and warm fog on that bookshelf next to pleasant first dates and getting to pick up my first tab for my dad. I don’t know what happened to Party Fowler or his girlfriend. I haven’t spoken to my ride up there since the late-1990s, when I tried to get a job from him at Enterprise. The benevolent rivals I met that day who sent me safely on my way have long since moved on and I’m sure have created the infrastructure that connects all of the state of Oregon or at least discovered a healthier feed to get beef to marble.

Like the mascot suggests, I learned the Beavers are an industrious sort. I came away thinking I was the one lacking in backbone and ingenuity. Though, like any good Duck, I also gained that day—and have carried with me—the ability to keep paddling upstream as the rains bead up and run off my back.

Kyle?

maginIAJ,

That story is exactly what I was looking for. The liberal arts/useful major, locals/out-of-staters, rich kids/farm kids dynamic is what adds teeth to any good rivalry. It’s why Texas versus pretty much anybody in their corner of the map is fun, ditto Stanford versus pretty much any school from the Pac-12 South.

It’s also the opposite of the ‘story’ the B1G has foisted upon Michigan State and Penn State in their pretty-much-annual end-of-season showdown. Jim Delany and his money-grubbing minions would love for the Land Grant Trophy to be something MSU and PSU fans cherish. Since the real rivals for both schools–Michigan and, uh, I guess Pitt?–are otherwise occupied, the B1G has thrown these two together for two and a half decades now and it’s never really taken. Sure, there have been a handful of classics--TJ Duckett dragging PSU defenders into the end zone for his fourth TD of the game in 1999 comes to mind–but, like, I don’t bear Penn State players, coaches (except the one) and fans any animosity. Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington could both sit down to a beer with me, while former Wolverines David Terrell and Braylon Edwards could both choke on one, for all I care. MSU and PSU are both, as the trophy unimaginatively states, land grant universities. They’re both made up of generally in-state, working-class kids majoring in everything you can major in at B1G state schools–arts, teaching, ag, sciences, packaging, you name it. Crucially, they’re 455 miles apart and didn’t really play before Penn State joined the league in the 90s. There’s no sepia footage of Biggie Munn and Joe Paterno or Duffy Dougherty and Joe Paterno or Muddy Waters and Joe Paterno’s squads getting it on. The ‘rivalry’ is totally a construct of the ESPN age. It’s a rivalry I was handed at 10 and told was a rivalry by the institutional powers that be, rather than intuitively, like my parents watching Michigan State-ND in different rooms because my dad is too tense to be around people for any notable Irish rivalry; or MSU-Michigan, which damns the loser’s fans to taunting the following Monday in elementary school. Those are rivalries because you just know they are. They’re rivalries because you feel the ecstasy and agony in your bones rather than having to be told so by Brent Musburger. Nevertheless, here we are…

Penn State +11 @ Michigan State

Did you get this line early? Back when it was MSU MINUS ONE POINT FIVE!?!?!!?!? There was a collective jaw-drop when the line first dropped Monday. Shock and awe. What did Vegas know that the rest of us didn’t? Was it going to be like when ranked Utah was a dog against a clearly disorganized USC team earlier this season and the Trojans handled business and the book came out smelling like roses? To their credit, most Spartan fans didn’t panic, and to the book’s credit, it realized that it didn’t want to lose a shitload of money and amended the line by 9.5 points by Wednesday. I actually like PSU +11 for the following reasons: MSU’s D-backs are young and unsteady and Lions QB Christian Hackenberg, for all of his over-rated glory, hits his deep shots pretty consistently and almost never turns it over (3 INT all year.) He’s been used more conservatively this season, but the weather is expected to be cold but clear Saturday in East Lansing and I expect he won’t have a hard time finding his targets. Also, MSU has been calling games so conservatively it’d make Barry Goldwater blush. While I don’t expect a Spartan defeat, I do expect the game to remain closer than 11. The Spartans will be playing their senior day game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving meaning the homefield advantage won’t be what it usually is.

Western Michigan @ Toledo -8

The Broncos haven’t won a game after Nov. 22 yet under Coach PJ Fleck and I don’t expect them to start now. Listen, for all the Row The Boat hype under the third-year head man in Kalamazoo, Western is a 6-5 team coming off two straight losses heading into the final regular season game against a MAC powerhouse in Toledo (9-1) on the road. A rainy day in Toledo will keep both teams on the ground, and that’s not good news for Western: the Broncos give up 5.3 yards per rush as opposed to the Rockets’ 3.3 yards. Add in the fact that Toledo has forced an astounding 24 fumbles–that’s close to 2.5 per game–and you’re not entering an environment that’s conducive to winning. The Broncos’ line, which is competent in the run game, is absolutely atrocious in the pass game, so if WMU is playing from behind, expect a line that’s given up 28 sacks versus a line that’s delivered 24 of them to reach an inevitable conclusion.

Florida State -2 @ Florida

It’s patently absurd that at this point in the season, the 9-2 Seminoles are the most battle-tested of the Sunshine State teams. That’s purely because their ACC “schedule” included Clemson. 10-1 Florida has dominated in point differential against the august likes of the SEC east–a division where 57 percent of the teams have a losing record overall and nobody save the Gators has less than three conference losses. The ‘Noles do this in the Swamp.

Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State Over 69

The 10-1 Cowboys were devastated last week in a 45-35 loss to Baylor, a more thorough beating than the score suggests. Oklahoma hasn’t lost in a month and a half, racking up totals of 44-plus points in every game of that stretch save last week’s 30-point effort versus TCU. Nothing is stopping these offenses at this point in season, even the freezing rain forecasted for Stillwater Saturday. You know why? Both teams have short games that are on point. The Sooners’ Samaje Perine averages 6 yards per carry and has 1160 yards this season. The Cowboys are more pass-oriented, but they have a slew of sure-handed receivers (QB Mason Rudolph is second in the Big 12 in pass completions) who can haul the under routes in and hang on to the ball. I’d look for both squads to light up the scoreboard at Boone Pickens Stadium Saturday.

pridgenIKyle,

I’m going to freestyle my picks this week. It’s the only way (good call on that early line MSU/Penn State btw. What happened there?) Not that there’s not value in doing research all week and checking things out that make sense (does that make sense?) in order to make an educated guess at the spread—but I feel like sometimes I get mired in the #sportsjargon which plagues columns like this. And the whole point was not to, so….Also, I was watching The Other Woman the other night waiting for the turkey to brine at 1:23 a.m. when I should have been sleeping and it’s so strange to see Cameron Diaz as not exactly post-menopausal Diane Keaton yet but getting toward that place. Hollywood is a bitch man. Especially if you’re a woman.

Speaking of Tinsel Town, there’s no place I’d rather be than Outer Watts this weekend (well, maybe Pasadena) for all the agreeable reasons you mentioned that make UCLA/USC the other fall classic—not to mention the only Uber-sponsored rivalry game in the nation. Autumn in LA is, well, mostly like summer anywhere else but with people wearing beanies and flannel just because of the turkey border that shows up on the Shutterfly calendar.

There’s a winking element of manifest destiny implicit in this showdown. Like, you can have your packed stadia and sideline history recollects, but we’ll make our game more pleasant than fresh-squeezed chaser and be good with that.

I also think it must be a strange thing attempting to attend a UCLA/USC game as a student. Like, they just don’t really. A college rivalry without the total buy-in of the student body is indigenous to LA akin to how the biggest metro basin in the world has survived for a couple decades independently from the NFL. And really, its only NFL fans are transplants who don’t realize there’s a million taco trucks and hikes up to Griffith Park hikes and hidden coves in Malibu to explore instead of watching Lime-A-Rita ads in some artificially dark pub next to another guy from Cleveland trying to become the next Drew Carey. In other words, LA is about a decade ahead of the rest of the country in that it has figured out how to ‘do’ football by mostly ignoring it.

On the other hand, at this moment USC/UCLA are pretty much the defacto professional franchises of record this season south and east of La Brea and so any rivalry is ginned up by fans of a certain age, ie., Kyle, your neighbor.

Now the picks:

Oregon -30 vs Oregon State

No in-state rivalry (see: my previous entry above) should be this lopsided. The problem is Oregon’s clicking, big time and Oregon State is a more dead-end cause than trying to get a re-apply for a refund on your 2012 taxes because you calculated wrong (<–wholly based on personal experience). Thirty’s a lot and a kind of week 1 Woebegone State vs. SEC Juggernaut spread, so I won’t be surprised if the Beavs keep it within 25. Then again, the final should be something like 48-14 which doesn’t seem like 30 but is.

Boise State -10 @ San Jose State

SJSU has let me down one too many times this year and by that I mean one, I think. Boise State is coming off two inexplicable losses to New Mexico and Air Force which tightened up the spread. Time to pounce.

Michigan +2.5 vs. Ohio State

Fuck it. Michigan’s better than Ohio State. They’re at home too in case you didn’t notice. Are all rivalry games this easy to call?

Oklahoma -3.5 @ Oklahoma State

Sooners are the best one-loss team in the country right now. The only team that could play them within a touchdown is the three-loss Ducks. A dream match-up we’ll never see in a field of four playoff.

UNLV -3 @ Wyoming

Nobody in Vegas has noticed that UNLV is actually a .500ish team whose record happens to be 3-8 and Wyoming is a .000ish team (and would be minus a strange win vs. Nevada) which happens to be 1-10. Because UNLV is momentum-rich wrapping year one of their five-year plan to prominence, I pick the Rebs to take it to the ‘Boys in Laramie.

South Carolina +15.5 vs. Clemson

The Citadel. I get it. The Gamecocks have looked mostly lost and afraid this season and that’s exactly why they’ll keep it close vs. the Tigers. Everyone in the country outside Dabo after all, is waiting for that other cleat to fall. The storyline sets up waaaaay too nicely for there not to be the threat of an upset.

Stanford +2 vs. Notre Dame

The game I’ve been waiting for Kyle. Stanford wins this faster and better than you can say Christian Jackson McCaffrey. Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer has no answers for the Cardinal’s fast and physical front seven, and the Irish secondary is garbage and so are their front five. Stanford has the edge in every aspect, including home field. Sorry, no. 4, your luck’s run out.

pridgenIAJ

Last week: 3 for 4

Overall: 22 for 35 (one tie)

Oregon -30 vs Oregon State

Boise State -10 @ San Jose State

Michigan +2.5 vs. Ohio State

Oklahoma -3.5 @ Oklahoma State

UNLV -3 @ Wyoming

South Carolina +15.5 vs. Clemson

Stanford +2 vs. Notre Dame

maginIKyle

Last week: 3 for 4

Overall: 23 for 41

Penn State +11 @ Michigan State

Western Michigan @ Toledo -8

Florida State -2 @ Florida

Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State Over 69

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