Rusty and I are worn down by this 2016 season. The email subject line between Rusty and me for exchanging picks this week was “2016 Sucks.” We have watched the castle on the hill where the Ducks lived devolve into a tin-sided shanty with only one resident:
But there is still football! And some tasty match-ups remain. Off we go.
S: Colorado v. Washington (-6.5) (@ Levi Stadium)
Just like Rusty below, I really, really want to pick Colorado here. I live in Western Colorado, and so have always hoped that the Buffs would become relevant so there is something other than a constant stream of Broncos worship out here. This year, I got my wish.
But Washington is pretty dang loaded. And if I’m picking odds, I have to go with the tendencies and the stats. Both defenses are consensus top-10 groups. That’s undisputed. But Washington’s offense scares me a lot more than Colorado’s. The refreshing part about this CU team is they use a non-traditional Pac-12 style: they play field position, are solid on defense, and run the ball to control the clock. That’s great, but I think they will have trouble doing that and keeping up with Washington’s potent offense.
My heart says Buffs, but my head says huskies. So lay the 6.5 here.
R: Colorado v. Washington (-6.5) (@ Levi Stadium)
I want to pick the Buffs here. I really do. With Sefo Liufau at quarterback the offense will be able to stay in the game until late. The defense is great at forcing passing downs, which would force Jake Browning to make plays to win. It is up to the defensive backs in this game to make things tough for UW.
Washington’s lone loss was to one of the hottest teams in the country and Jake Browning looked normal. It is unlikely that he will play as poorly again. When breaking down all the different advanced stats on Football Outsiders Washington matches up extremely well and is better in every stat. I don’t like it, but Washington is going to win the PAC-12 championship.
S: Oklahoma State (+14) at Oklahoma
Getting 14 points with Okie State might be the lock of the week. As Rusty alluded to below, the Cowboys are a couple plays away from being 11-0. Their offense is scrappy and explosive. They are fun to root for.
OU may have the best offense in the country, that is true. But I trust neither defense in this scenario. Of all the units (offense/defense) on playoff-contender teams, Oklahoma’s defense might be the worst. And OSU hasn’t shown an ability to hold teams down either. So this jumps out to me as a 45-42 game. Why? Because every Big 12 game I pick, I project that same score: 45-42. So call it 45-42 Oklahoma. Too much talent on Okie State’s offense to lay 14 on the Sooners.
R: Oklahoma State (+14) at Oklahoma
The Cowboys are a terrible officiating call and a loss to Baylor away from being undefeated. They won a shootout against Texas Tech, dropped 37 on West Virginia, and held TCU to 6 points. They have a top-20 offense and a defense that is comparable to Oklahoma’s. Oklahoma State’s strength is their passing attack and their ability to convert on long third downs to keep drives alive will determine if they come away with a win or not.
Oklahoma might be one of the first teams out of the playoff. The Sooners are a two weeks removed from embarrassing West Virginia in the snow. Baker Mayfield is leading what advanced stats considers to be the best offense in football. Oklahoma will win. They have a better offense and a better defense but they haven’t been able to pull away from even below average opponents.
S: Florida v. Alabama (-21.5) (@ Georgia Dome)
I really want to take the points here, and trust in Florida’s defense to hold down Alabama. Well, that may happen, but let’s try to picture a scenario in which Florida scores more than 10 points. Won’t happen.
Alabama has almost patented the gameplan coined by The Solid Verbal guys as “crockpotting.” Basically, if you look in at the game in the 2nd or 3rd quarter, the other team doesn’t look cooked. But by the time you’re in the 4th, everything has been fully braised. That’s Alabama. They don’t blow people out early. They just drive the ball and score, and then force 3 and outs on defense. I think that happens here, and we get a late front-door cover when Alabama scores a late TD to win 35-10. Lay the freaking points I guess. So tired of Alabama being obnoxiously good.
R: Florida v. Alabama (-21.5) (@ Georgia Dome)
Florida has one of the worst offenses in the country. They are 96th in S&P+ and they don’t have a dynamic passing attack to keep Alabama honest on defense. Alabama’s defense will swallow the Gator rushing attack whole.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts has been an amazing fit this season. Historically, Saban’s offense thrives on robots who hit check down passes and tight-ends in the flats off of play-action, bootleg rollouts. Hurts provides a boost on running while still being able to throw at a level equal to, or better than, the boring quarterbacks whose sole goal is to not mess up.
Florida will keep it close for the first quarter. That first quarter will be their best punch. Alabama will get a possession ahead, create short fields, and after turnovers Alabama will find themselves up 35.
S: Virginia Tech (+8.5) v. Clemson (@ Camping World Stadium, Tampa)
It feels like Clemson, despite its crazy amount of talent and returning experience, has been flirting with disaster all year. Its points margins against all the top-40-type teams it has played this year have been troubling: Auburn +6, Troy +6, Louisville +6, NC State +7 (OT), FSU +3, Pitt -1. Based on these data, why am I confident laying double digit points on Clemson? That question was rhetorical. I am not.
I am taking the points here. Because Va. Tech plays very good defense and has an improved offense under first-year coach Justin Fuente. Their ACC losses have been to weird teams (Ga. Tech? Syracuse?) but they have competed very well with every quality ACC team on their schedule: Pitt, Miami, North Carolina. I think they have the goods here to keep it tight.
R: Virginia Tech v. Clemson (-8.5) (@ Camping World Stadium, Tampa)
Virginia Tech has had a good first season with Justin Fuente taking over for Frank Beamer. He has won nine games with losses to Tennessee, Georgia Tech, and Syracuse. The Hokies have rushed for 2302 yards but rank 94th in S&P+. Interestingly, the Hokies perform very well on passing down situations but in the bottom fifth of the country in standard down efficiency.
Clemson might have an especially good matchup. While the Tigers’ defense is one of the best defenses in the country they are excellent at forcing turnovers, defending the pass, and attacking on passing downs. DeShaun Watson is still the quarterback and he can will Clemson to a win but the defense will cover the spread.
S: Penn State (+1) v. Wisconsin (@Lucas Oil Stadium, Indy)
When it’s an even game, I like to play a game called “What half of what team do I like the least?” Here, it’s no question: Wisconsin’s offense. They have been winning games despite their offense all year. While a 14-point win last week vs. Minnesota looks good on paper, it was fueled by 4 turnovers by the Gophers. Wisconsin will not be able to sustain many drives against a much-improved Penn State defense. Now, granted, Wisconsin’s defense is a consensus top-10 defense, up there with Alabama, LSU, Washington, Colorado, Clemson, Michigan. But I think they have trouble scoring. And Penn State has a ton of weapons on offense to challenge the Badgers’ defense. UW has had a great ride against a brutal, brutal schedule. Penn State is peaking at the right time. Love Saquon Barkley, love Trace McSorley’s in-season development, and love Penn State’s ability to make in-game adjustments down the stretch. If it’s crunch time, I trust their offense more than Wisconsin’s. Give me the Nittany Lions.
R: Penn State v. Wisconsin (-1) (@Lucas Oil Stadium, Indy)
I don’t think there is a more even matchup this weekend. Both defenses and both offenses are in the same realm of effectiveness.
Penn State is one of the hottest teams in the country along with USC. They can get solid pressure on the quarterback with four rushers. Their pass rush is what won them the game against Ohio State. The kick returned for a touchdown also helped. What does give me some pause is that Penn State was run over by Michigan. Even though it was in week 4 the potential to get rocked worries me.
Wisconsin has been an underrated team this whole year and I think the line reflects that Penn State is one of America’s public teams. I think Wisconsin’s ability to steadily move the ball will help keep the Penn State pass rush honest. This one is a toss-up but Wisconsin was two scores away from being undefeated.
S: San Diego State (-6.5) at Wyoming
Weird game in which both teams have had two (2!) November losses, and kind of back into the title game. SDSU because of the weakness of the West Division, Wyoming because Boise State boned it away.
As Rusty identified, it’s very difficult to beat the same team twice in one year, especially since the two just played earlier this month and SDSU lost this one in crazy fashion. So give me the Aztecs. Donnel Pumpfrey is a freak; he’s the difference maker here.
R: San Diego State (-6.5) at Wyoming
These two teams met a couple weeks ago and Wyoming pulled out the win late. The Aztecs went for two to get the win and were unsuccessful. But I respect the hell out of that move. If is very tough to beat a team twice. Over the course of the season the Aztecs outgained their opponents and Wyoming was outgained. I’m looking at the season’s averages and Wyoming’s defense was in the bottom fifth for S&P+.
S: Temple at Navy (-3)
Navy has been running up and down the field on everyone for the last several weeks. In three straight wins over three good teams - Tulsa, ECU, SMU - they have scored 42, 66, and 75 points.
Temple is built on defense. But the question of whether a defense can stay disciplined against a triple-option team for 4 quarters is always tough to answer. I’ll side with Navy, the hot hand. They have had some massive wins this year (Houston, Notre Dame) and I think they’re ready to win this one at home.
R: Temple at Navy (-3)
I have a soft spot in my hear for the military academies. Navy has wins over Houston and Notre Dame with their lone losses to Air Force and USF in a shootout. The Midshipmen also dropped 75 on SMU. Their offense is fantastic and takes the air out of the ball. In the game against Notre Dame the Irish had only 6 total possessions in the game.
It’s strength against strength because Temple’s defense has taken care of business in most of their games. In their last three games the Owls have given up only 10 points. Why I like Navy here is that Temple lost to Army at the beginning of the year. The triple-option is difficult enough to defend when you don’t see it all the time and while Temple has probably learned from their loss, Navy is on a different level compared to Army.