Game of the Week: #1 Alabama (11-0) at #4 Auburn (10-1). Top-ranked Alabama is an 11-point road favorite in what may be the biggest Iron Bowl of all time. These teams hate each other, and their annual game is, no doubt, the state’s biggest game of the year, and that’s if both teams are winless. This year, they are far winless, holding only 1 loss between them. Both teams have SEC title hopes, and the game will directly decide the winner of the SEC West for the first time since 1994. Both teams also have a good shot at the national championship. Alabama has won 3 of the last 4 national titles, and Auburn won the title in 2010. As for the game itself, Alabama has won 4 out of 5 (Cam Newton was responsible for Auburn’s one win), although Auburn won 6 in a row before that. This is the first ever Iron Bowl with both teams in the top 5, and is the first top 5 matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium since Auburn tied Tennessee, 26-26, in 1990. Auburn has had a remarkable season, coming back from a 3-9 record a year ago. Alabama, however, has been #1 all year, and is clearly the best team in the nation. They will prove Saturday they are the best team in the state. The game’s hype is warranted, but I think AJ McCarron will improve on his 36-2 mark at QB for the Tide. Alabama 38, Auburn 27.
Big Game Guarantee: #6 Clemson (10-1) at #10 South Carolina (9-2). South Carolina is a 5-point favorite at home against their big rivals from the Upstate, the Clemson Tigers. That 5-point number is both appropriate and ironic, as the Gamecocks are trying to win 5 in a row against the Tigers, a feat the program has never accomplished (the closest they’ve come is winning 5 out of 6 from 1949-1954, and tying the 1950 meeting). Clemson coach Dabo Swinney realized the importance of breaking Gamecocks’ win streak, saying “We’ve got to win the dang game.” Clemson’s only loss all year is to #2 Florida State, although that game was not close (then again, nobody has played the Seminoles close). Clemson will play this game on the road, and their toughest road games so far have been against Syracuse and Maryland, a far cry from playing a top 10 team on the road. South Carolina has losses to Georgia and Tennessee this season. While the Georgia loss was understandable, as that game was played in Athens before Georgia was hit with their injury issues, the Tennessee loss is a head-scratcher. Even still, the Gamecocks sit in the top 10 and still have a chance of playing in the SEC title game. This may be the biggest matchup ever in this rivalry, as the winner may wind up with a BCS at-large bid, and the loser will eliminate themselves from BCS contention. I think home-field advantage may be the difference here, with Clemson’s lack of big-game road experience and South Carolina’s good play all year at home. South Carolina 28, Clemson 27.
Another Big Game Guarantee: #21 Texas A&M (8-3) at #5 Missouri (10-1). Missouri is a 4-point favorite at home in one of their biggest games in program history. Their SEC East clinch scenario is simple: if they beat Texas A&M, they win the East, and if they lose to the Aggies, South Carolina wins the East. Missouri is “undefeated in regulation”, as they say, with their only loss coming to South Carolina in double overtime. Texas A&M, after coming into the season with national title hopes, has close losses to Alabama and Auburn, and a blowout loss last week at LSU. QB Johnny Manziel may have knocked himself out of Heisman contention with a poor performance last Saturday, but he will still be a big factor in this game. Missouri QB James Franklin played well last week against Ole Miss in his return from a shoulder injury. Missouri has home-field advantage, and is 3-1 on the year against ranked opponents, while Texas A&M is 0-3. Missouri 42, Texas A&M 35.
Another “Big Game” Guarantee: #3 Ohio State (11-0) at Michigan(7-4). Michigan has the “Big Game” with Ohio State at home in Ann Arbor this year, but they are 15-point underdogs to the undefeated Buckeyes. Urban Meyer is 23-0 as Ohio State’s head coach, while Michigan’s Brady Hoke is on the hot seat after losing to Iowa to drop to 7-4, losing 4 out of 6. Michigan leads the all-time series 58-44-6, but Ohio State has won 8 out of the last 9. Michigan’s lone win over that span was 2 years ago, in the last meeting in Ann Arbor. While some of those Buckeye wins have been close, such as the “Game of the Century” in 2006, some of them have also been blowouts. I think this game will be somewhere in the middle. Ohio State is lagging behind the other 2 major undefeated teams in the rankings due to a weaker schedule and closer scores, but they continue to win. Michigan has a lot of talent on their roster, but isn’t playing well. While I think Michigan will play better, Ohio State will be too much. Ohio State 35, Michigan 20.
Upset of the Week: #24 Duke (9-2) at North Carolina (6-5). When you think of Duke and North Carolina, you think of their battles on the basketball court. However, Duke is ranked for the first time in the BCS era, and North Carolina has struggled at times this year before getting bowl eligible last week. Duke is playing for the ACC Coastal division title, after winning 7 straight. And somehow, the odds makers are favoring North Carolina by 6. The Heels do have the benefit of a home game, although Duke only has to travel 15 miles from Durham to Chapel Hill. During Duke’s winning streak, they only have 1 blowout win, winning the rest with big defensive stops, often pulling away late. The Tar Heels scored 80 last week against Old Dominion, and have a 5-game winning streak of their own. The Heels have won 21 out of 23 against Duke, including 10 out of 11 in Chapel Hill, although Duke won last year in Durham on touchdown with 13 seconds left. I still don’t understand how North Carolina is favored here, even if they are playing what is easily their best football of the year. Duke’s wins haven’t been flashy, but they’ve done what they had to in order to win, and I believe they will again. This is quite a matchup for the 100th meeting in this rivalry, one that can continue off the basketball floor. Duke 27, North Carolina 24.
Closer than the Experts Think: #25 Notre Dame (8-3) at #8 Stanford (9-2). Stanford is a 14-point favorite over Notre Dame. Stanford clinched the Pac-12 North last week with a win over Cal and Oregon’s loss to Arizona. The Cardinal have an impressive list of wins over ranked teams, although they also have losses to Utah and USC. Notre Dame has played a tough schedule, as usual, with losses to Michigan, Oklahoma, and Pittsburgh. Stanford has won 3 out of 4 in the series, although Notre Dame won a very controversial game in South Bend a year ago, in overtime. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says he expects the game to come down to inches again this year, even though his team is an underdog. It is certainly possible Stanford could get caught looking ahead to the Pac-12 Championship game next week, a game that will have a much bigger bearing on their BCS bowl chances. In the end, I think this game will be closer than the spread, simply because I think there won’t be a whole lot of offense. Stanford 17, Notre Dame 10.
Bonus: NFL Pick: Denver Broncos (9-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-2). Denver is a 5-point favorite, coming off a shocking loss to the New England Patriots in which they blew a 24-point halftime lead and lost in overtime. Kansas City is coming off a loss of their own, a 41-38 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. While both teams are coming off losses, these teams are still playing for first place in the AFC. When these teams played 2 weeks ago in Denver, the Broncos won 27-17. The Chiefs do usually play better at home, although that loss to the Chargers was at Arrowhead. For the Chiefs defense, they will likely have to play the game without sack leaders Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. That will make the game a little easier for Peyton Manning, which is all the Broncos need. I still expect the game to close, since it’s in Kansas City, where the Chiefs play well, and both Broncos losses this year have been on the road. Broncos 24, Chiefs 23.
Bonus: NFL Pick: New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Seattle Seahawks (10-1). The Seahawks are 5 point favorites at home in this game, which is for first place in the NFC. ESPN is licking their chops at the biggest Monday Night Football game in years. The Seahawks have a NFL-best 13-game home winning streak, and everyone knows CenturyLink Field may be the toughest venue for opponents to win in all the NFL. That’s especially true when the Seahawks are one of the league’s 2 or 3 best teams, as they are this year. The last meeting of these two teams was in the Divisional Round of the 2010-11 playoffs, and is remembered for Marshawn Lynch breaking at least 7 tackles on a touchdown run that put the game out of reach in favor of Seattle. New Orleans is 3-2 on the road, with losses to the Patriots and the Jets. In addition, the Saints are just 1-4 against the spread in road games. Since they’re underdogs here, they will have to beat the spread to have any chance to win, but even that may be problematic. Seahawks 38, Saints 28.
Happy Thanksgiving; enjoy your families and your football!