Picks Column: Calibrating Putts
I once dated one of the top college golfers in the nation.
As a result, for a time, I was interested in getting better at golf. I'm not sure if it was her or someone else who game me this tip, but I use it today to be a pretty intimidating putt-putt foe. (Not-so-humble brag: Earlier this year I made four holes-in-one at a Denver mall and crushed my opponent by double-digit strokes.)
When you putt, take two practice strokes. For the first, swing hard enough for what you deem to be about six inches past the cup. For the second, swing soft enough that it would leave the ball six inches short. Then approach the ball, and you've got a sort of muscle memory bracket to help hone your distance.
Many of this weekend's games remind me of that technique. Let's call it judgment-by-bracketing.
The most crucial element of the putting trick, of course, is sinking your middle-strength shot after you approach the ball. I'm looking at you, Tigers (Clemson and Auburn this week, LSU and Missouri next week).
For example, we already know Clemson tucked tail against No. 2 Florida State (six inches short of the cup), muddled through the first half against Maryland the following week, then recovered to wax the Terrapins and Virginia (six inches past the cup).
Now Clemson faces Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2), the defending Coastal Division champion, which has won three consecutive games and is the only team all year to demolish Duke. The Yellow Jackets are the sort of in-between team that will help us fill in the missing data on coach Dabo Swinney's bunch. We know they can handle mediocre teams and we have an idea they aren't quite national championship caliber.
But is this a legitimate No. 8 team or a borderline Top 15 group? We should know this week.
Similar for Auburn: We assume Alabama represents six inches short of the cup for the upstart Tigers, but this week's game against Georgia will better calibrate how close we think Gus Malzahn's team can get in the Iron Bowl. An up-and-down season for the Bulldogs, hinging on injuries to Todd Gurley and several others, seems to be headed back to the "up" category. It would be great for Auburn (9-1, 5-1) to end the Tide's BCS run, but a win against Georgia is more important in some ways.
It's the money shot. The one that should represent a true putt for Auburn in 2013. Not too easy and not too hard. Win and you guarantee a 10-win season and stay in the SEC championship hunt until the final game, and losing to No. 1 Alabama isn't so bad. Lose and you could turn into a 9-3 squad that might've gotten a bit lucky in close games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, all wins.
No. 8 Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 24
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Clemson, S.C.)
I tentatively am counting on Tajh Boyd to be over his stage fright against Florida State, a game in which the quarterback and then-Heisman candidate helped sink his team's chances for a national championship and his own at the award with a wretched performance.
Since, he's completed 74.3 percent of his passes and thrown for a combined 681 yards in a pair of road wins.
Clemson's athletic enough to keep the Yellow Jackets from running over them all day and winding the clock (the Tigers held Andre Williams to 2.9 yards per carry), and Boyd has enough help outside of Sammy Watkins to produce against all but the most dominating of college defenses. I expect Clemson to prove they're a better one-loss team than they're pegged now after the hard-to-watch loss to FSU.
No. 11 Oklahoma State 38, Texas 27
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Austin, Texas)
Cue Michael Buffer: Today we have a super middleweight bout in the Big 12, with the winner likely to move up in weight class and challenge Baylor for the cruiserweight title belt.
In the burnt orange trim, we have the "Hope I haven't worn out my welcome" Mack Browns, on a mission to become a national force again. In the other corner, in the black and... more orange, we have the "I'm way older than 40 and still every bit a man" Mike Gundys, on a mission not to plateau as a program.
In all seriousness, Texas may be able to withstand the loss of running back Johnathan Gray (Achilles) and likely loss of quarterback David Ash (concussion symptoms), but playing without defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee) is a big deal. The latter played a large role in the resurgent Texas defensive front, which now must face one of the most potent offenses in the nation.
Other than a funky "you take it" loss at West Virginia in September, this Oklahoma State team has handled business, and is as good or better than BYU and Ole Miss, Texas' two losses this season. Maybe five years ago, the Cowboys' offensive talent would've been more heralded. Whether it's Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh under center, there's plenty of talent, but Oklahoma State "only" averages 40.7 points per game with a more balanced offense than you're accustomed to from this team.
The Big 12 title dream crumbles for Texas, and likely Brown's head coaching career with it.
Georgia 31, No. 7 Auburn 28
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Auburn, Ala.)
Aside from a few lingering injuries, this is largely the same Georgia offense that nearly outscored Alabama in last year's SEC championship, including the SEC's most prolific passer and all-time leader in touchdowns thrown in Aaron Murray and a running back I believe is the best in the nation when 100 percent healthy in Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs' defense, which underperformed last year despite tons of NFL talent, is green and weak this year, but the combination of an offense rounding into health and a one-dimensional Auburn attack should help simplify things for an athletic, but sometimes immature defense.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have cruised on Easy Street the last five games with the exception of Texas A&M, a game they may have lost of Johnny Manziel hadn't left briefly with a shoulder injury. The Bulldogs are good enough to force Auburn to pass at least 15-20 times, and right now, I don't have faith in Nick Marshall and the Auburn receivers.
Under The Radar
Miami 28, Duke 27
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Durham, N.C.)
I'm tempted to call an upset here in the Blue Devils' most meaningful football game since — well, perhaps in the history of Wallace Wade Stadium, which opened in 1929.
Barring a big upset by Georgia Tech or Maryland, Duke (7-2, 3-2) could seize control of the Coastal Division with a win, because they'd be tied at the top of the standings with Virginia Tech, which they've already beaten. Coach David Cutcliffe has the offense humming, having scored at least 35 points in seven of nine games this year (the two exceptions were wins at Memphis and at Virginia Tech).
Miami (7-2, 3-2) has lost consecutive games and star running back Duke Johnson. This is a "real putt" game for backup Dallas Crawford, who rushed for 137 yards against North Carolina (six inches past the hole) and 37 against Virginia Tech (six inches short of the hole). Crawford did tack on 41 receiving yards against the Hokies, but did not prove effective carrying the ball. The real truth for Johnson's backup probably lies somewhere in between, and with quarterback Stephen Morris heating up, Crawford likely will get chances.
UCLA 42, Washington 31 (Friday)
No. 5 Stanford 24, USC 21
Virginia Tech 24, Maryland 7
No. 4 Baylor 45, Texas Tech 24
Arizona 38, Washington State 27
Michigan 35, Northwestern 28
Michigan State 27, Nebraska 17
Louisville 32, Houston 17
No. 12 South Carolina 24, Florida 10
No. 1 Alabama 49, Mississippi State 17
Arizona State 42, Oregon State 27
Last Week: 8-7
All rankings refer to Football.com's Power Dozen.