Picks Column: Early Thanksgiving For CFB Fans
I could never be a cornerback.
First, though I did once hold a school record for the 1,600-meter relay at a Division I program, I don't have fluid hips and good change of direction. I'm more of an upright, powerful runner.
The bigger reason, though, is because I don't have the "forget it and move on" or "live in the moment" traits. Whether it's an hour before a Thanksgiving feast, the night before Christmas or my first conference championship in college, I've always struggled with too much adrenaline and anxiety.
Nothing's better, though, than the first reference, turkey in the oven, vegetables and desserts in various pots on the stove and table and butter melting my grandmother's homemade bread just before the table is set.
Nothing's worse, either.
But this feels like football's equivalent of a holiday feast. So while we still have to wait hours for the most anticipated Thursday night ever in college football, let me step aside and get right to the picks.
No. 5 Baylor 42, No. 11 Oklahoma 27
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
This game is intriguing because we all want to see how Baylor's offense operates against a legitimate team. The Bears have scored at least 69 points in five of seven games, but it's tough to gauge their true ability when the opponents are Wofford and Louisiana-Monroe.
This isn't a good matchup for the Sooners, though. Baylor's scheme is designed to use the entire field. Much is made of the stretch vertical routes to receivers who line up wide of the numbers, but that unclogs the middle for the confident (cocky?) Lache Seastrunk. The junior averages 9.1 yards per carry and has gone for more than 100 yards in six games despite never carrying more than 18 times.
Oklahoma's defense, meanwhile, allowed 255 rushing yards to Texas, which isn't as big of a threat in the passing game or as efficient on the ground as Baylor.
Even more curious, Baylor's defense is sixth in the nation in scoring, but allowed more than 33 points per game against West Virginia and Kansas State. The Sooners are a bit bruised at this point in the season and don't have the talent on offense to keep Bryce Petty and the Bears on the sideline.
No. 2 Oregon 38, No. 6 Stanford 24
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Stanford, Calif.)
Which Cardinal defense will show Saturday night? The one that allowed at least 28 points to Army, Arizona State and Washington or the one that held UCLA and Oregon State to a combined 22?
If Stanford can maintain its recent play on that side of the ball, it may keep the game competitive into the fourth quarter, but don't expect anything like last year's 17-14 upset in Eugene, Ore. Outside of Ty Montgomery and Tyler Gaffney, the Cardinal skill players don't come close to matching Oregon's stable, which is much larger. One of them, running back De'Anthony Thomas, already predicted his team will score more than 40. Rather than hoping the Cardinal again shut down the Ducks, Stanford fans should hope the defense keeps Oregon between 31 and 35 points.
The Ducks' defense, too, is much improved and could be the best Oregon has trotted onto the field in the Chip Kelly/Mark Helfrich era. Kevin Hogan is an above-average quarterback in the Pac-12, but he was a little overrated early in the year and cannot carry Stanford's offense in big games. Stanford will be in trouble fast if it falls behind and has to chase the Ducks.
The best hope is to get an early lead or hang close and hope to force Marcus Mariota into a mistake (which is unlikely, considering he still hasn't thrown an interception this season).
No. 1 Alabama 31, No. 10 LSU 24
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
This is the best team Alabama will face all year outside a potential BCS championship game. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel hung 42 on Alabama, but the Tide held a huge advantage in many other areas and controlled the game despite trailing 14-0 early and allowing a late touchdown. In between, they outscored the Aggies, 49-21.
The Tide hold no such advantage against the best all-around LSU team I've seen. The Tigers' talent may be a half-notch below some of Les Miles' best teams, but it's spread more evenly. LSU has Odell Beckham Jr., a more talented version of Alabama's dynamic returner/receiver Christion Jones. He's not Mike Evans, but he presents a different element for the Crimson Tide secondary. And don't forget Jarvis Landry and his 58 catches and eight touchdowns — perhaps the best second option in the country. Oh, and a stable of backs headed by Jeremy Hill, who easily would be a 1,000-yard back if he hadn't missed the opener due to a suspension.
On the other side, LSU's defense hasn't been as consistent, but held No. 7 Auburn to 21 points and are a young, talented bunch. Bama's one big edge, which is a reversal from recent seasons in this matchup, is on special teams.
Other than Julio Jones, this game typically hasn't featured a big-time, All-American type receiver. But the 2013 matchup won't approximate the 9-6 overtime slugfest a few years ago. LSU has two NFL-caliber receivers. Bama, too, is much more skilled on the outside led by a surging Amari Cooper. Each team still can run the ball, but much of the attention will be on quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger and AJ McCarron, both of whom can push the ball downfield if the defense crowds the line.
I give Alabama a slight edge due to more consistent play, but LSU should care the heck out of Tide fans.
Under The Radar
UCF 35, Houston 28
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Orlando, Fla.)
No one would've guessed this game, not one involving Louisville, would determine the inaugural American Athletic Conference champion, but here we are. One of these teams will play in a BCS bowl. (Fun fact: Houston and UCF both are ranked in the Top Five nationally in turnover margin.)
Like the three other games featured in this column, Central Florida is a comfortable favorite in Vegas, though no one would be surprised if Houston made it a game. Most college football fans know of Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson for the Knights, but what of this year's Cougars?
Houston's lone loss came by a point to BYU. They've beaten a good Rice team on a neutral field and crushed Rutgers, 49-14. Leave it to Texas to come up with a good freshman quarterback: John O'Korn has thrown for more yards (2,121) and touchdowns (22) than Bortles. Top target Deontay Greenberry has 62 catches for 948 yards and nine touchdowns. But Houston's offense, ranked 12th in the nation in scoring, faces the 18th-ranked scoring defense in UCF.
The Cougars won't be able to stop Bortles and Johnson, but the Knights will slow O'Korn and company just enough.
Florida 21, Vanderbilt 13
Minnesota 35, Penn State 27
Miami 21, Virginia Tech 20
UCLA 37, Arizona 20
West Virginia 35, Texas 31
Wisconsin 28, BYU 24
TCU 28, Iowa State 17
No. 3 Florida State 45, Wake Forest 10
Texas Tech 31, Kansas State 27
Michigan 28, Nebraska 21
San Jose State 35, San Diego State 24