Picks Column: No More Butterflies And Rainbows
Michael Jordan still turns grown men into hero worshipers.
No. 23 is the greatest basketball player ever. Unlike other sports, you rarely get an argument in roundball.
When I grew up, my first basketball memories revolve around Jordan: The Bulls-Suns NBA Finals featuring Jordan and Barkley, the Jumpman dunk poster in my room, the verbal brawl every year when the church-league basketball jerseys arrived and everyone fought over No. 23.
I played center field in little league. Our team got to take the field with the Double-A Birmingham Barons one game as part of those minor league baseball promotions. Our right fielder was absent, so I got to shift to right and take the field with Jordan.
He never could hit a breaking ball and finished the season with just three home runs in 497 plate appearances. But he hit his first home run that night, the night I stood next to him on the field and shook his hand. I still have a picture of myself in an Astros uniform, my cap barely reaching his hip.
At some point I acquired a golf ball painted like a basketball with the No. 23 plastered on it. I kept it in my bat bag next to my glove and would hold it in the dugout, bouncing it off the cement. I played for the Marlins that year, and I still remember most of the players on my team. We had an ace pitcher named Jimbo who went on to play Division II baseball. A clown named C.J. A laid-back fellow outfielder named Brandon to whom I grew close in high school. And Tom, my eccentric neighbor and one-time lawn care partner who now lives in China.
We won our first game and kept winning. We must've won our first 10 games. Tom called the golf ball lucky. I didn't bring it to the part one afternoon and we lost. Years later, he still bugged me about not bringing that Michael Jordan golf ball to the park. I never forgot it again, and we won the rest of our games, including the league championship.
There are eight unbeatens left. Alabama, Oregon and Baylor don't even play this week. Ohio State and Northern Illinois will be comfortable favorites the rest of the season. Fresno State must have discovered the Jordan ball, because they've won two games in overtime, another by one point and another by five.
But one unbeaten must lose, because Florida State and Miami play. No amount of belief or lucky golf ball or even Jordan himself could prevent a reality check for the Hurricanes. If you're an ACC fan or just like close games, all we can do is hope our lucky stars prevent another snoozer in what's supposed to be the highlight game of the weekend between two Top-10 teams from the conference.
USC 24, Oregon State 23
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Corvallis, Ore.)
The Trojans under interim coach Ed Orgeron held Arizona to 17 points through three quarters, then allowed a combined 17 points at Notre Dame and against Utah. Oh, and they didn't give up more than 14 points during the first four games of the year.
Sean Mannion took eight sacks in a loss last week, and the Trojans are more than capable of making life uncomfortable for Mannion in the pocket. Oregon State's offense is capable of exploding, but for all its shortcomings, USC has at least as much talent as the Beavers.
Sure, Oregon State can hang numbers on Colorado and Cal, but last week's 12-point output against Stanford was no fluke. USC's offense is no great shakes without Marqise Lee, but they're good enough to score once per quarter against the Beavers.
Michigan State 26, Michigan 24
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (East Lansing, Mich.)
If not for a four-point road loss to Notre Dame early in the season, the Spartans would be in the conversation with Baylor and Miami, perhaps as the best of the bunch. Michigan State's offense, which has held the team back for years, finally is taking advantage of the opportunities spoon-fed by the nation's third-best scoring defense. The Spartans have averaged 31 points per game in October, debuting at No. 24 in the AP poll this week.
Meanwhile, Michigan lost to a mediocre Penn State in four overtimes and barely escaped Akron and UConn. Michigan State shuts down the run game as well as anyone in the nation, and Devin Garner is exciting, but he's thrown 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and can take too many sacks at times. The Spartans will make Michigan one-dimensional and then force them into a few mistakes, and its offense will do just enough.
No. 3 Florida State 42, No. 6 Miami 27
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Tallahassee, Fla.)
This may feature two Top 10 teams, but this isn't a five-star matchup. Miami isn't good enough to stay undefeated, much less knock off a true national championship contender. Miami covered the spread in seven of eight games until two weeks ago, then nearly lost to North Carolina and Wake Forest. But Stephen Morris apparently has been playing hurt, and he's feeling better this week. Duke Johnson heads a strong running game as well. So consider that before you write off the Hurricanes for needing three consecutive comebacks.
This won't be a demolition from jump like the Clemson game, but Miami's defense is deceiving. Yes, they're ranked 10th in the nation in allowing 17.7 points per game. But South Florida, Wake Forest and North Carolina all scored at least 21 points on them, and the Hurricanes only limited an anemic Florida offense to 16 because of a rash of turnovers. FSU is the real deal, and the Seminoles defense will win its share of plays, while Miami's defense will not.
Under The Radar
Virginia Tech 17, Boston College 14
Kickoff: Noon ET (Chestnut Hill, Mass.)
A loss to Duke, even if the Blue Devils are bowl eligible, revokes your "legitimate" card, but Virginia Tech's defense is as good as units from Alabama, Stanford and Michigan State. In fact, Marshall's offense is the only unit to score 21 points on Virginia Tech's defense, and the Thundering Herd stayed stuck at 21 through three overtimes. Even the No. 1 Crimson Tide needed three non-offensive touchdowns to win, 35-10.
Meanwhile, Boston College features Andre Williams, one of five backs that have topped 1,000 rushing yards as of Halloween. Much like Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Williams needs volume carries. In five career games with at least 25 carries, Williams averages 194.6 rushing yards. At 6-foot, 227 pounds, he's strong enough to wear down defenses if he's force-fed the ball. Virginia Tech relies on its defense, especially in close games with a lead, rather than risk a mistake by erratic quarterback Logan Thomas.
Williams is two for three this season against top defenses, worrying Florida State while being held below three yards per carry by USC and Clemson. Last week we promised you a pass-happy, entertaining contest with the "Under The Radar" game, and it was (replete with 95 points). This one is for those who enjoy the dying breed of football: ground-based, plenty of hitting and bruises for days.
Rice 28, North Texas 27 (Thursday)
Arizona State 38, Washington State 31 (Thursday)
Wisconsin 31, Iowa 27
Georgia Tech 24, Pitt 13
Georgia 24, Florida 10
North Carolina 28, N.C. State 24
No. 9 Auburn 31, Arkansas 21
Nebraska 28, Northwestern 21
No. 10 Missouri 31, Tennessee 14
Oklahoma State 42, Texas Tech 31
Boise State 35, Colorado State 20
Last Week: 12-3
All rankings refer to Football.com's Power Dozen.