Game of the Week: #3 Auburn (11-1) vs #5 Missouri (11-1)
Auburn plays Missouri in the battle of the Tigers in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn is favored by 2, coming off of two consecutive miracle wins in the closing seconds against Georgia and Alabama. They now sit 3rd in the BCS rankings, and if they win, and either Florida State or Ohio State lose, they control their own destiny to make the national title game. Even if the Seminoles and Buckeyes win their respective games, I believe there is a chance Auburn could jump Ohio State with a win over Missouri. Missouri has won 4 straight, including their division clincher against Texas A&M last week, since their double overtime loss to South Carolina. They have won consecutive games against ranked opponents since the return of QB James Franklin. These two teams were a combined 2-14 in the SEC last year, including Auburn’s 0-8 record, and have turned it around to be 14-2 this year, leading to what may be the most unlikely SEC Championship Game ever. While Missouri’s season has been special, Auburn is having a season of destiny, and I sure wouldn’t want to be a team having to play them right now. They will have another exceptional game we will look at as a classic (like their last two games) and win their 2nd conference title in 4 seasons.
Auburn 35, Missouri 28.
Big Game Guarantee: #7 Stanford (10-2) at #11 Arizona State (10-2)
Arizona State is a 3-point home favorite in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the only major conference title game to be played on a campus site instead of at a neutral site. That will add a level of atmosphere that will favor the Sun Devils, who come in having won 7 straight games since early season losses to Notre Dame and this Stanford team. That 42-28 win for Stanford, however, was in Palo Alto, where Stanford has won 16 straight games. The Sun Devils have an 8-game home winning streak of their own, and have also won close games in tough environments at Utah and UCLA during their drive to the Pac-12 South division title. Stanford has lost 2 out of 3 on the road to unranked opponents Utah and USC. Stanford is trying to reach their 4th straight BCS bowl game, while Arizona State is trying to reach their first since 1996, when Jake Plummer was the Sun Devils’ QB. Home field advantage is the determining factor, as the game should be close, late. I believe Stanford would win if these teams played in Palo Alto, but this game is in the desert.
Arizona State 28, Stanford 24.
Another Big Game Guarantee: #17 Oklahoma (9-2) at #6 Oklahoma State (10-1)
“Bedlam” will ensue in Stillwater, where Oklahoma State is a 10-point home favorite. The Cowboys are a win away from their 2nd BCS bowl bid in 3 years, but are hosting a rival they’ve lost to 9 out of the last 10 years. In fact, Oklahoma State is trying to win back-to-back games against Oklahoma at home for the first time since 1930 and 1932, when they were known as Oklahoma A&M. The Cowboys are 10-1, and 7-1 in Big 12 play, with the only loss coming to West Virginia back in September. Oklahoma is 9-2, with a 6-2 Big 12 record, with their only losses to the two teams currently tied with Oklahoma State for the conference lead, Texas and Baylor, both of whom lost to Oklahoma State. Should Oklahoma pull an upset, Texas and Baylor would be playing for the conference title (see below), and Oklahoma would tie for 2nd with Oklahoma State and the Baylor-Texas loser. As mentioned, the Cowboys beat both teams that have beaten the Sooners, and this is a different Cowboys team than the one that lost to West Virginia. They would be in national championship contention without that loss (they would probably be #2), and they have played as well as anyone over the last half of the season.
Oklahoma State 49, Oklahoma 35.
Another Big Game Guarantee: #25 Texas (8-3) at #9 Baylor (10-1)
Baylor is a 15-point home favorite in a game that could decide the Big 12 title. That would only be the case, however, if Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, but that game will be at 12:00 ET and this one will be at 3:30 ET so the teams will know what is on the line. This has already been the greatest season in Baylor’s program history, and they will appear in a 4th straight bowl game for the first time ever. They are seeking their first outright conference title since 1980, and their first ever 11-win season. Texas’ year has been a bit more of a struggle, with early blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss, and another bad loss to Oklahoma State, their only loss in conference play. There is speculation coach Mack Brown may be out of a job with a loss, whether by firing or retirement, although I don’t think that’s the case. Oklahoma State is also the only team to beat Baylor, in a game that was also a blowout. Baylor won the last meeting in Waco, although that was their first win at home in the series since 1997, and Texas won last year’s high-scoring game, 56-50, in Austin. Baylor looks like the better team on paper, and having the game at home will help them as well.
Baylor 52, Texas 41.
Another Big Game Guarantee: #14 Northern Illinois (12-0) vs Bowling Green (9-3)
The Northern Illinois Huskies are 4-point favorites in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit against the Bowling Green Falcons. The Huskies come in undefeated, and are likely one win away from clinching their 2nd straight BCS at-large bid (even with a win, the bid won’t become official until the BCS standings are released on Sunday night, due to the complicated BCS rules for at-large bids). This year’s potential bid wouldn’t be as controversial as last year’s when a 12-1 Huskies team that lost to a less than mediocre Iowa team, and lost in that BCS bowl game, the Orange Bowl, to Florida State by 21. The Huskies lost coach Dave Doeren to NC State, but Rod Carey has picked up right where the team left off, leading them to this year’s perfect season (so far) with wins over an improved Iowa team, Purdue, and all their MAC opponents. QB Jordan Lynch will likely be a finalist for the Heisman trophy, having a remarkable season as one of the season’s best passers and one of the nation’s best rushers. Bowling Green has had a good season, but has lost 3 games this year. One was a blowout to Indiana, as well as close losses to Mississippi State and Toledo. While Bowling Green has a good résumé, I don’t think they can compete with Northern Illinois’ offensive powerhouse.
Northern Illinois 45, Bowling Green 28.
Upset of the Week: #2 Ohio State (12-0) vs #10 Michigan State (11-1)
Ohio State moved to 2nd in the BCS after Alabama’s loss to Auburn last week, and head into the Big Ten Championship Game as a 6-point favorite against Michigan State. The Buckeyes, however, only defeated Michigan by a point last week when the Wolverines’ late 2-point conversion attempt failed. Michigan State beat Minnesota, 14-3, to not only finish an undefeated Big Ten regular season, but to defeat each of their conference opponents by double digits. Also, the Spartans beat that same Michigan team 29-6, and their only loss of the season was back in September to Notre Dame, who is 8-4 but has other quality wins against Arizona State and USC. Michigan State has the top-ranked defense in the nation, and the top-ranked rushing defense. Ohio State has the 2nd-ranked rushing offense, as displayed in an offensive annihilation of Michigan. Then again, they haven’t played a defense anything like this one. There’s a reason Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, is being mentioned as a potential head coaching candidate at a couple of schools who are either looking for a coach or could be soon. I expect him to lead his defense to a containment of the Buckeyes.
Michigan State 21, Ohio State 17.
Closer Than The Experts Think: #1 Florida State (12-0) vs #20 Duke (10-2)
Florida State is the #1 team in the nation for the first time since 2000, and comes into this ACC Championship Game in clear control of the national championship destiny. They play the Duke Blue Devils, who have won the ACC Coastal divisional title for the first time, and can win their first conference title since Steve Spurrier coached the Blue Devils in 1989 (the ACC began division play in 2005). Even with Florida State’s outstanding season so far, I find it hard to believe Duke is a 29-point underdog in this game. The Blue Devils have an 8-game winning streak, not too far behind the 13-game streak of the Seminoles (dating back to last year’s Orange Bowl). While their win over Troy is the only blowout of the streak, the team has been remarkable in that they always find a way to win in the second half. Then again, the Seminoles haven’t had to play starters in the second half of most of their games, with their closest game being a 48-34 win against Boston College on September 28. That game marks the last time the Seminoles trailed in a game, covering a streak of nearly 512 minutes of football since in which they’ve had the lead or been tied (usually 0-0) for every second of action. Now they don’t even have the distraction of the Jameis Winston investigation, as the ‘Noles QB was not charged in the While Duke has a good football team, they shouldn’t be able to match up with the Seminoles, but I do believe the game will be a little closer than the spread would indicate.
Florida State 38, Duke 17.
Bonus: NFL Pick: Carolina Panthers (9-3) at New Orleans Saints (9-3)
The Panthers have the NFL’s longest active winning streak, at 8 games, coming into play Sunday night at the Superdome, but they are 3-point underdogs. That’s because the Saints have a 6-game home winning streak throughout this season, winning most of their home games convincingly. In fact, coach Sean Payton has a 14-game home winning streak, with the last home loss coming in the 2010 finale (Payton did not coach during the 2012 season due to a suspension). The Panthers are now 3rd in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings, behind just the Seahawks and the Broncos. The Saints fell from 2nd to 5th in that same ranking after their blowout loss to the Seahawks on Monday night. Even though the Saints have had a short week, and even though the Panthers are arguably the league’s hottest team, I can’t ignore the Saints unquestionable home-field advantage.
Saints 28, Panthers 24.