We have tried a varied number of picks each of the last two weeks and achieved a deeper and more thorough mediocrity in our for-entertainment-only ventures. Alas.
After a 5-4 mark last week that included wins on the Auburn-Georgia over and with SMU, Vanderbilt, UCLA and Boise State covering the number, we're 40-28-1 overall this year. That we are treading water is of little consolation after our white-hot start to the season.
Still, you have to bank entertainment where you can find it. Let's try to find it this weekend.
And if you are shaking your heads when you are looking at the point spreads, well, you should be -- the guys who do this for a living are starting to understand the products with which they handicapping. To counter that, you have to know which teams the public favors, because the pros certainly do. And they shape the lines accordingly.
San Jose State minus-2 over Navy: This game is tonight and is part of the travel-package part of this week's picks. Follow along: Who is more regimented than the Navy football team? So how big will the shock to the system be of flying across the country for a Friday game and a 9:30 p.m. kickoff, since the Navy kids are more often than not bunked down by that time? If you need football reasoning to be convinced -- and that's fair -- San Jose State quarterback David Fales will more than likely be drafted before Georgia's Aaron Murray next spring.
Boston College pick 'em over Maryland: Under first-year coach Steve Addazio, Boston College is physical and forceful. The Eagles love to run the football and are powered by the best player in the country that you do not know. Meet Andre Williams, the 227-pound BC senior who has rushed for 14 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards in 10 games. And as Williams has found his stride, so have the Eagles, who are 3-0 in November -- and Williams has 105 carries for 800 yards and six TDs in those three wins. Normally we caution against risking entertainment on an ACC game -- it's like tech stocks, and you never know when the bubble will burst -- but we like power backs when the weather turns.
Duke minus-5 at Wake Forest: Yes, another ACC game. And another game in which we play some angles. First, since losing leading receiver Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest has scored all of three points in two games. Campanaro had 67 catches before breaking a collarbone two weeks ago; the next highest Wake player has 15 catches. Second, among the worst home-field advantages in all of college football has to be the study hall known as BB&T Field. Scenic joint, but hardly an intimidating trip. Third, Duke has David Cutcliffe calling football plays, and the Devils are still playing for a division championship. Yes, please.
Oregon-Arizona over the 65: This one has the feel of the Ducks dropping the hammer early and often -- maybe even getting in the 40s before halftime. Ask yourself this: What number would it take for you to bet the under with the Ducks? At least 72, right? If you saw any other entertainment investment that was giving you a free seven points, it would be prudent play. You're welcome.
Tulsa minus-3 at Louisiana Tech: Misleading records and schedule alterations have a much stronger Tulsa team laying only a field goal against a LaTech bunch that will not have running back Kenneth Dixon at 100 percent. Call this a hunch, and if it hits, then you can pick up the hunch tab. (See what we did there?)
Michigan State minus-6 at Northwestern: This one seems too good to be true, right? One of the nation's top five defenses having to cover only a score seems too good to be true. And that scares the stuffing out of any regular reader of these picks. Still, this year has been filled with "too good to be true" picks that have turned out to be winners while we failed to act. Not this time with the Spartans. Carpe diem. Or Sparty diem, maybe.
UCLA plus-3 over Arizona State: We believe in these Bruins. Have all season. We believe Arizona State is overrated, considering its best wins have had a great deal to do with good timing: ASU beat Wisconsin because of time management; ASU used excellent timing of the Lane Kiffin meltdown to whip USC. UCLA is at home getting a gift 3. Thank you.
1. Johnny Football takes center stage
With the Heisman talk starting to swirl, last year's winner is looking good again. Johnny Manziel has been every bit as good -- and a ton better throwing the ball -- as he was last year when he became the first freshman to win college football's top prize. (Side question: If Johnny Football gets a white-collar job, we would have to call him Johnny Briefcase, right? And if he got a blue-collar job, he'd be Johnny Lunchbox. Dude, the Johnny options are endless. Let's do it for Johnny. Stay gold, Pony Boy.) Where were we? Oh, yes, Mr. Football heading to LSU for the 3:30 game before a national TV audience. Manziel has carried a wretched Aggies defense all year, so let's set the bar on 350 passing, 80 rushing, five total TDs and seven "Oh. My. Goodness" exclamations from Verne Lundquist. And we think come Monday, Johnny Football will be the Heisman front-runner.
2. Can Missouri continue its improbable march toward Atlanta?
The Tigers get quarterback James Franklin back, and before he was injured, Franklin was crafting an All-America type season. (Side note: We were an early upset or two and a freak injury away from a very real discussion of SEC coach of the year and player of the year being James Franklin.) The Tigers travel to Ole Miss, which has lofty aspirations still in play. No, the Rebels can't get to Atlanta, but if they win out, a very attractive bowl trip to either Dallas or sunny Florida could be in the cards. Quite a feat for Hugh Freeze in year two.
3. How does Georgia rebound?
The Bulldogs took an unbelievable gut-punch loss last week at Auburn. Let's stop and ponder these Dogs for one second, and yes, ifs and buts can make you crazy, but ... if Damian Swann tackles Sammy Watkins on a simple slant in August; if Georgia doesn't make a stupid penalty on fourth-and-4 in the fourth quarter against Vandy; if either safety just knocks down the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, these Bulldogs could be 9-1 with two games left. As for Saturday, well, the real opponent for Georgia is Georgia. If the Dogs have put the Auburn loss in the rearview, the Bulldogs should crush Kentucky. If the pain from the Plains lingers, well, Kentucky is scrappy enough to hold everyone's interest.
4. Who prevails in the battle of the Volunteers State?
One team has locked up another bowl bid; one team is fighting for its postseason chance. For most of our lives, that would be a fair description of the Tennessee-Vanderbilt showdown in November. Now, however, the bowl regulars live in Nashville and the desperation is from the 865 area code. So it goes. For the Vols to win, someone in Smokey Gray is going to have to slow Jordan Matthews, the SEC's most accomplished receiver of all-time. And Vandy is trying to win back-to-back games over UT since 1926. The bizarro twists in this one are staggering.
5. Alabama against the Mocs
Two teams with monster followings in the greater Chattanooga area meet in Bryant-Denny. Is there any reason to believe the Mocs can keep this close? Not really. Heck, no one this side of Johnny Football and Co. have stayed close with the Tide this season, so that's not a knock on UTC. Here's saying that the genius puppet master Nick Saban finds a way to beat the Mocs with a final score very close to the 34-point margin that Alabama beat Tennessee. He's crafty like that. Heck, if Saban were a rapper, he'd be Nicky Smooth. Or maybe MC Hammer. Wait, that's already been used.