It is interesting to me that on the eve of the SEC championship game, an informal poll of the nation’s top oddsmakers reveals that five of six think Alabama’s football team is still the best in the country. First, I agree with that, despite the Auburn miracle in one of the best college football games I can ever remember. Are you kidding me? Alabama’s three losses in three years is pretty incredible.
The oddsmakers were asked how they would match the Crimson Tide against Florida State, the current No. 1 team, and Alabama was a solid 3-point favorite. I don’t believe we will see an actual FSU-Alabama game, but I am of the opinion Michigan State may well upset unbeaten Ohio State this weekend and it would be a stretch for Alabama to leapfrog the winner of the SEC championship game in Atlanta to No. 2 in the poll.
Granted, Alabama is ahead of Missouri in this week’s BCS poll, but if the Mizzou Tigers beat Auburn’s Tigers tomorrow afternoon while Alabama watches the game on TV, I don’t think any voter in clear conscious could overlook what a magnificent season Gary Pinkel and his players have had.
I think Auburn is the second-best team in the SEC and I would probably put South Carolina ahead of Missouri right now with Connor Shaw playing so well. Carolina is the only team to beat Missouri in the regular season. Then again, Mizzou is tremendously balanced and is certainly among the top four, given injuries to key guys like Georgia’s Aaron Murray and LSU quarterback Steve Mettenberger.
That said, here is how I am picking the big games tomorrow:
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No. 18 OKLAHOMA (9-2, 6-2 Big XII) at No. 6 OKLAHOMA STATE (10-1, 6-1 Big XII) , 12:00 Noon on ABC – Ah, it is time for pure “Bedlam” in Stillwater and Sooner boss Bobby Stoops said he’s barely glanced at the once-beaten Cowboys. "I don't look at the other team," Stoops told sports writers this week. "You guys do. That has nothing to do with us. All I look at is our season and our team and what improves us, end of story. I have no thought on the other team, whether it's Oklahoma State or anyone else." That said, State is a 9-point pick after the 49-17 whipping dealt to then-No. 3 Baylor on Nov. 23. MY PICK? Oklahoma State, 38-15.
MARSHALL (9-3, 7-1 USA) vs. RICE (9-3, 7-1 USA) in Houston, 12:00 Noon on ESPN2 – The Thundering Herd are favored by 5 in the Conference USA showdown after winning the last five games with an average margin of 34 points. MU QB Rakeem Cato has had a fabulous year, throwing 34 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, while also running in six additional scores. Last year MU won a 54-51 slugfest and, while you suspect the same, the horrible weather (40 degrees and rain at kickoff) gives Marshall a greater edge. MY PICK? Marshall, 37-24.
No. 15 CENTRAL FLORIDA (10-1, 7-0 AAC) at SMU (5-6, 4-3 AAC), 12:00 Noon on ESPNU – If Cincinnati lost last night to Louisville, Central Florida will get a BCS bowl game but if Cincy won, this game is critical for George O’Leary’s nationally-ranked Knights. UCF has won seven straight, including the 23-20 win last week over South Florida where the Knights overcame five turnovers. MY PICK? Central Florida, 41-14.
No. 23 TEXAS (8-3, 7-1 Big XII) at No. 9 BAYLOR (10-1, 7-1 Big XII), 3:30 p.m. on FOX – Art Briles has done a stellar job at Baylor, and, when you take a look at the inroads Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, TCU’s Gary Patterson and Texas Tech’s Klif Kingsbury have made instate, the dew is off the yellow rose. In other words, embattled Mack Brown needs the Longhorns to play much better than a 15-point underdog today in Waco. If UT falls out of the Top 25, buckle your seat belt. MY PICK? Baylor, 36-20
No. 5 MISSOURI (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. No. 3 AUBURN (11-1, 7-1 SEC) in Atlanta, 4:00 p.m. on CBS – An improbable duo, indeed, will take center stage in the SEC championship with Auburn playing the part of Cinderella. The AU Tigers are picked by 3, while the UM Tigers feel like a red-headed stepchild in this, just the SECond year in the league. Mizzou is loaded and balanced, with QB James Franklin going to WR Green-Beckham with mastery. But Auburn – cocked and loaded by tomorrow -- is a team of miracles and it is hard to buck destiny. MY PICK? Auburn, 35-31.
No. 7 STANFORD (10-2, 7-2 Pac12) at No. 11 ARIZONA STATE (10-2, 8-1 Pac12), 7:45 p.m. on ESPN – Were it not for that sloppy 20-17 loss to Southern Cal The Cardinal might have overcome the 27-21 Utah embarrassment and been in the BCS hunt. As it is ASU is 11th in the latest BCS ranking and Stanford is seventh. So it hardly makes sense Stanford is a 3-point underdog after they have beaten ASU 42-28 in late September. Oh well. MY PICK? Stanford, 36-27.
No. 20 DUKE (10-2, 6-2 ACC) vs. No. 1 FLORIDA STATE (12-0, 8-0 ACC) in Charlotte, 8:00 p.m. on ABC – The news that “Famous Jameis” Winston will not be prosecuted for sexual assault was welcomed in the FSU football building but there is still a stench everywhere else as the No. 1 team in the country plays in the ACC title game. Duke, after a heroic season, is a 30-point underdog to the high-octane Seminoles but this one is overshadowed by the rash of accusations and the bungling of the investigation. Thank goodness, DU coach David Cutcliffe just won Coach-of-the-Year honors. The feeling here is that Duke will cover the spread, but FSU has too much might to think the Blue Devils can keep it close. MY PICK? Florida State, 34-17.
No. 2 OHIO STATE (12-0, 8-0 Big 10) vs. No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (11-1, 8-0 Big 10) in Indianapolis, 8:17 p.m. FOX – When the undefeated Buckeyes gave up over 600 yards to Michigan in a Big House thriller a week ago, OSU’s narrow 42-41 win left little doubt MSU could hand Urban Meyer his first loss tomorrow night. The defense-led Spartans have a four-point loss to Notre Dame as the lone blemish on a dandy run for the Big 10 title but OSU deserves to be favored by 6 by virtue of an offense that spurts out 48.2 points per game due to Braxton Miller’s genius. The biggest difference? State is playing for the Big 10 title while OSU is seeking a berth in the national championship game. This will be one to watch. MY PICK? Michigan State, 31-27.