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Duck the Odds, Championship Week: Are the Sun Devils Ready for Their Closeup?

Championship game in Tempe with a disciplined, experienced, physical, defensive-minded power coming to town. What could possibly go wrong?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Standings:

Last Week: Pac-12 Picks: 4-2; Other Picks: 1-5; Overall: 5-7; Mustache Margin: -11.

Overall: Pac-12 Picks: 9-9; Other Picks: 8-8; Overall: 17-17; Mustache Margin: 0.

This Week:

(Random question before we begin: was anyone else repeatedly singing "I DON'T NEED YOUR CIVIL WA-UH-WAAAR" in the style of Axl Rose voice during the game last week? Yeah, me neither.)

After getting sucker-punched by the Mustache Gods last week, we turn our attention to Conference Championship Week. With the Ducks absent from the proceedings (again), we'll look at other conference championship games from around the country and the few remaining Big 12 regular season games. Still a lot of uncertainty over Oregon's bowl destination, and the games this weekend will be the determining factor.

Let's have a better week than last.

(Reminders: (i) Lines are from Las Vegas Insider's Consensus Picks; (ii) Picks are on a 1-to-5 Mike Bellotti "Staches" confidence-o-meter. Obviously more "Staches" is good. In all contexts.)

The Pac:

--> Pac-12 Championship: Stanford (+3) @ Arizona State (1-Stache Pick)

As hot as ASU as been, I can't get out of my mind that Stanford was up 29-0 and 39-7 over the Sun Devils when they met in September in Palo Alto, a 42-28 win for the Cardinal.

So the question is whether ASU is a whole 17 points better at home this week than it was on the road back in September.

I have a good feeling about the Sun Devils. I really do. I think their defense is very good and their offense has improved over the course of the year. But the words "Arizona State, Rose Bowl Participant" just don't compute for me.

Can't you see Stanford doing to ASU exactly what it did to Oregon? That being: slow the game WAY down, keep ASU's point-scoring offense off the field, and run the ball directly up the gut 40+ times?

With how good Stanford's defense has been - in every single game - getting them as an underdog in a big game is surprising. I don't like doing it, but I'll grudgingly take the Card here.


--> The Bedlam Game: Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (-9.5) (4-Stache Pick)

Stoops. On the road. At night. In a rivalry game. With a freshman QB. In a loud stadium. Against a red-hot Okie State squad. Whose defense is absolutely killing people right you want me to keep going?

Lay those points and be glad there aren't more of them.

--> Texas (+15) @ Baylor (3-Stache Pick)

Baylor just gave up 38 points to TCU. I think Baylor is still recovering emotionally from the embarrassing loss to Okie State in the way an adolescent can't get over a tough breakup that happened in the cafeteria IN FRONT OF EVERYONE.

Texas just told Texas Tech, a very skilled pass offense, to SHUT UP in a 41-16 lambasting. I think Texas is getting sorta good.

Now, Texas has to go on the road to Waco, mind you, and Baylor has been outstanding at home this season. But the signs point to an improving Texas defense, a worsening Baylor defense, and possibly an ugly crapfest. 15 points just seems like a ton to lay on any Big 12 team right now. If Baylor lets Texas score 28 points (and I think they will), the Horns cover.

(I'm fully aware that I'm placing faith in the Texas Longhorns, thereby signaling a total reversal of fortunes for the Horns. ENGAGE ANTI-JINX.)

--> ACC Championship: Florida State vs. Duke (+29) (3-Stache Pick)

Tough call.

Both these teams have been undervalued by the oddsmakers all season. Duke is 9-2-1 against the spread, and has only been favored to win 6 times. FSU is 10-2 against the spread, and has covered 7 spreads of 28 points or more.

If both teams are consistently undervalued, then I'll put my faith in the team that's getting 29 points. FSU doesn't have to impress voters anymore: it just needs to win, and keep itself healthy for a BCSNCG appearance. I see FSU winning easily, but don't see Jameis Winston and Co. in there trying to score late in the game.

The Dukies have outperformed the odds in almost every game this year, and have straight up just been way better than anyone expects them to be against "superior" talent. I'm assuming that trend will continue.

--> MAC Championship: Bowling Green (+4) vs. Northern Illinois (2-Stache Pick)

Northern Illinois has been the darling of the MAC for two full seasons in a row, and sits at 12-0. There's a reason Jordan Lynch gets so much attention: he's a serious gamer who is 24-2 over the past two seasons.

But BGSU has quietly had a really nice season at 9-3, and has played spectacular defense down the stretch: giving up 7, 7, 0, and 3 points its last four games, including a 24-7 domination of sneaky-good Buffalo.

I really don't know much about the MAC, but do know that real weird shit often happens in these matchups, and there's a TON of pressure on NIU to just win this ONE game to get back in a BCS game. Root for weirdness, root for a crazy finish and a possible back-door cover, and root for BGSU's defense to limit Lynch and keep it tight at Ford Field.

--> SEC Championship: Missouri (+2) vs. Auburn (2-Stache Pick)

What a great, non-traditional matchup in the SECCG. What makes it even more interesting is that these two squads have done remarkably well against the spread this season: Mizzou is 10-1-1, Auburn is 10-2.

Mizzou started the week as a 2-point fave but is now a dog, which tells me the oddsmakers have no idea which way this game will go. Which is probably about right, given how well both these teams have played and how out-of-nowhere their seasons have been.

Auburn is without a doubt the luckiest team in America. But the "lucky" plays came because they put themselves in a position to win every game. You can't discount their ability to keep it close and make a play when it's needed.

But I just can't pick against Mizzou here. They've been steadily good in every game this year, and has only one bad quarter of football (4th quarter vs. South Carolina). Auburn's got the letdown factor to consider: they just beat their fiercest rival in one of the best finishes in college football history They may have just run out of emotional-win-fuel. I think Mizzou wins this one. But, then again, who the hell knows.

--> B1G Championship: Ohio State vs. Michigan State (+5.5) (2-Stache Pick)

A week ago, I would have taken the Buckeyes here, hands down. But after seeing OSU's defense do their best paper-banner-that-high-school-teams-run-through-before-games impression last week @ Michigan, I'm less bullish on the ability of the Buckeyes' defense to get stops and get off the field.

MSU's offense is not going to win any beauty contests (or yard-gaining contests, to be more germane to the discussion), but if they can churn out first downs, drain the clock, and keep OSU off the field, they can by all means win this thing.

But the real reason I'm taking MSU here is their defense. I've been singing Sparty's praises all season. And why not. The most points they've given up is 28 (twice), have held teams to under 20 points 10 times, and held teams to single-digit points 6 different times. They're the real-deal-Holyfield.

I'd feel differently if tOSU's defense was more skilled and could net the Buckeyes some possessions. But I don't think they can if MSU just wants to go super-conservative and churn out 3-yard rushes. There's just too much of a Stanford-Oregon vibe here, so I'll take the points, and won't be surprised if MSU wins this thing like 17-14.


Stay tuned next week to see how we did, and for an early look at some of the tasty bowl season matchups.