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Picks Column: Chasing Stability

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Odell Beckham Jr., the best receiver you've never heard of, is the difference in a game between two high-powered offenses as Georgia slips out of the national championship picture this weekend. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Odell Beckham Jr., the best receiver you've never heard of, is the difference in a game between two high-powered offenses as Georgia slips out of the national championship picture this weekend. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

Have you ever set your head down on a pillow while the sun still lorded over the sky?

Ever felt Rip Van Winkle eroding your will?

Felt reality transform into a dream-like state where your mind’s lens is blurred and its wheels feel stuck in sludge?

You have a dozen tasks to finish by the end of the day, but if you just rest your eyes for a minute, you think, you’ll be able to attack with renewed zeal.

After what seems like 10 minutes, you figure it’s time to resume your day. Only, you feel swallowed by confusion. Why does the clock say 3:45? Wasn’t it just 1 p.m. a moment ago?

I’m stubborn. Sometimes I’ll push myself to exhaustion. I can’t think with clarity, create from scratch or communicate clearly. My mind won’t let me rest, so my body forces it to. Takes a stand. Refuses to let me move forward until I get a bit of sleep.

But for most of us, our adult lives stabilize over time. We settle into a career. We buy a house. We start a family. We join a church. Put down roots. Establish a routine.

Routines are good for sleep. Disruptions can create variability — of fatigue and of performance.

I credit one of the best seasons of my track career to a month of hibernation and stability. Thank goodness for Jan Term. Samford University students get an extended holiday break. Or, Option B, they can knock out a single class in a three-week window in January.

My poor teammate decided to knock out a semester of Spanish in one Jan Term. The class rotated for three weeks: quiz one day, test the next. Information overload.

I took an art appreciation course. I attended from 8 a.m. to noon each day, but my only homework involved a handful of trips to art museums. The only other responsibility I had was to eat, run and sleep.

From the time I finished exams for the fall semester until the last week of January, I slept as much as a bear in winter.

Class. Lunch. Nap. Practice. Nap. Dinner. Back to bed. Repeat.

That’s not the typical pattern for college students. Is there ever a routine? Think about the disruptions that spread themselves out in our adult lives over years.

A move. A job change. A breakup. A death. A lifestyle change. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes we stay out late. Sometimes we take a vacation.

Those things get condensed in college. Home for summer. Back to school. Home for Christmas. Back to school. Internships. Road trips. New classes. New roommates. New dorm. New girlfriend. New summer job. New major. New career ambitions.

People come and go. One night you play Grand Theft Auto until 2 a.m. The next night you study in the library until 10, then lights out. The next night you go to a party and sleep until noon. The disruptions spread across months and years as adults are mere days and weeks in college.

It’s a wonder coaches like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer can get any sort of consistency out of their teams.

The NFL is about routine. It’s almost military-level. During the season, you’re told what to do, where to be and when.

College is about freedom, choices and developing judgment. It’s also what makes college football so exciting. How can Notre Dame beat a 10-win Oklahoma team by 17 on the road one week and nearly lose to Pitt — a 6-7 Pitt — in overtime?

We think we know some of these teams now that the preamble is over. As September turns to October, the flakes in the snow globe settle. But there will be at least one major disruption every week, starting now.

Last week was as chalk as it gets. Favorites dominated as much as they have in years.

That’s not college football. A correction is coming.

The trick for top teams is to escape with a win even when it means defying Mr. Winkle.

Thursday Special

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Atlanta)

Virginia Tech 24, Georgia Tech 21

This Virginia Tech defense is stinkin’ good. Don’t let the results misguide you. What other team, with a plodding offense, can still manage to hold Alabama, East Carolina and Marshall to a combined 45 points in three games? The Pirates, for example, scored 83 points in two games before hanging 10 on the Hokies. Marshall blazed 138 points in three games before only reaching 21 in three overtimes against VT. Bama? The Tide scored two offensive touchdowns against Virginia Tech before erupting for 49 the next game against a Top-10 team.

Logan Thomas, once projected as a Top-10 pick, has imploded the last two seasons. It’s tough to prepare for an option offense in a normal week, much less for a Thursday road game and against a quarterback in Vad Lee that gives the Yellow Jackets a legitimate passing threat. All signs point to a Georgia Tech win.

VT gives up 2.6 yards per carry. GT averages 5.7. The Hokies don’t stand a chance if they lose that tug of war, but I think Frank Beamer’s bunch waits another few weeks before face-planting. They take this one in a surprise.

Five-Star

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Athens, Ga.)

No. 6 LSU 30, No. 9 Georgia 28

I don’t care whom you listen to. This game is a coin flip between two very good teams. It’s a pick ’em at a neutral site.

It’s hard to gauge from afar how much credit Cam Cameron deserves for LSU’s offensive success, but don’t be slow to react. The Tigers are at least as proficient as Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and company. Zack Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill cancel out those two, but Odell Beckham Jr. is the breakout star of the conference and the separator in this contest. The LSU wideout is averaging 19.5 yards per reception and has scored five total touchdowns in three games.

Both teams are good enough to compete with Alabama for a BCS championship spot, but Georgia’s young defense is more susceptible against top-flight teams than LSU’s.

Four-Star

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)

No. 1 Alabama 28, Ole Miss 21

The Rebels are coming. The Tide looks shaky. Ole Miss played Alabama tough last year. That Bama team was better. That Ole Miss team was worse.

Before you upset hounds get too excited, this isn’t it. Saban’s bunch will collect itself and put together one of its best efforts of the season after a passionless grind against Colorado State last week. The talented Rebels receivers will make a few big plays, but the Tide offense settles into a balanced groove and controls the game.

Under The Radar

Kickoff: Noon ET (Orlando, Fla.)

No. 12 South Carolina 35, UCF 24

Blake Bortles and UCF have emerged as Louisville’s competition in the American Athletic Conference now that Cincinnati has stumbled. Bortles, by the way, has completed 71.4 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns, one interception and a whopping 11.7 yards per attempt. The Knights knocked off Penn State before a bye week, but gave up 31 points to a mediocre offense in the process. South Carolina is no Penn State. Steve Spurrier’s bunch is flawed, but Connor Shaw and the offense are enough. The Gamecocks handle the early start on the road and this one isn’t close.

The Rest

Utah State 35, San Jose State 31
No. 3 Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24
Oklahoma 28, Notre Dame 10
No. 5 Stanford 27, Washington State 17
Arizona State 21, USC 17
No. 10 Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 20
East Carolina 28, North Carolina 27
Northern Illinois 35, Purdue 28
No. 11 Oklahoma State 45, West Virginia 20
Bowling Green 28, Akron 27
Oregon State 42, Colorado 35

Season: 47-12.
Last Week: 14-1.

All rankings refer to Football.com’s Power Dozen.