5-at-10: Fab 4 picks, expanding conferences and playoff field, Braves' good problem

AP photo by Bob Andres / The Atlanta Braves’ Vaughn Grissom takes off after hitting a double during the seventh inning of Saturday night’s home game against the Miami Marlins.

Fab 4 picks

Down the middle. 

In politics, I am appreciative of down the middle. In life, I am respectful of down the middle. In pitching, you better be fearful of down the middle. In bowling, you’re headed for splitsville down the middle.

In betting, down the middle is money down the tubes.

It’s the juice and odds and spin that makes $5 lobster dinners in Vegas possible and local entertainment brokers in your neighborhood driving Lincolns commonplace.

And moreover, the trend to either follow or fade my Fab 4 picks — before the last 12-plus-months I had a tendency to run hot or cold — now is also a down-the-middle proposition.

I was 48-47 last year during the college football regular season. With a 4-4-1 start this year that’s 52-51-1 since the start of 2021. So it goes I guess.

Let’s try to turn a corner, shall we?

UCF minus-5 over Louisville. I think the Knights are going to score. A lot. Not just here but across the board because Gus Malzahn has a super-fast QB in Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee who is a courageous runner. That’s the key piece to Malzahn’s offense being explosive. That Louisville’s wheels are about to fall off is another interesting piece here too.

UTSA minus-2 over Army. OK, we know a couple of things about this one. UTSA played a tough Houston bunch toe-to-toe in a 37-35 triple overtime Week 1 loss. Army is Army, which is run-run-run, and then run some more. Finally, UTSA is nicknamed the Roadrunners, which is wicked cool, and was also the nickname of the Smyrna pee-wee football operation growing up back in the day. Side note: My first job ever was Saturdays in the fall as an early teen calling Roadrunner games on the PA. The 65-pound team went undefeated with a tailback named Kareem Jordan — seriously — who averaged about 18 yards a carry that season. Man, what a great sports name. Kareem Jordan. Anywell, let’s go Roadrunners.

Alabama minus-11 over Texas in the first half. Load it up, because this is the type of big-name foe Nick Saban loves to hammer.

Tennessee minus-6 over Pitt and Tennessee over 36 in team scoring. So Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is embracing the underdog role. That’s cool. Every coach loves the “No one believes in you” pregame speech. Well, Narduzzi in some ways kind of overstepped the true underdog role and rather than trumpeting the offensive excellence and the Big Orange Heup(el), here’s what Pat said to start the week: “It’s a good football team coming here. You’ve heard all summer about the SEC, and there’s only really two Power Five conferences in the country, the SEC and the Big Ten. So we’re in the pee-wee league, and we’re going to line up and see if we can play.” Uh, sour grapes much, coach? And in truth, that a ranked reigning ACC champ is almost a TD underdog to a UT team that is middle of the pack (and improving) in the SEC is a direct contradiction to his sarcasm. And why motivate a UT bunch who otherwise could have walked in overconfidence. Here’s saying the Fightin’ Heupels stroll into the building formerly known as Heinz Field and drop 57 on Pitt.

Last week: 2-2-1 against the spread.

This season: 4-4-1 against the spread.

More college football conversation

OK, the four biggest talking points in the big picture view of college football have become crystallized.

There’s NIL, which is now trickling down to high schools across the country as well. (Side note: To be fair, the barnacles that attach their fundraising needs to Friday nights are pretty staggering when you think about it. One group (like the band) gets parking, another group (ROTC maybe) runs the concessions, another (cheerleaders potentially) take the money made selling programs, the general athletic budget takes a cut from merch sold, and so on. How much longer does Johnny QB1 wait to wonder, “hey, do I get a cut?”)

There’s the portal that has allowed almost half of the FBS programs to get a starting QB this season through the college football free agency avenue. And I support the portal and kids have a one-time, immediately eligible transfer card.

The other two are the expansions of the playoff field and conferences.

And the light clicked for me reading this story about the teams the Big 12 could be looking to add after losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC in coming years. 

The Big 12 is already slated to add Cincinnati, BYU, UCF and Houston. That’s a nice start. The Big 12 bigwigs are saying they are looking at others from the West Coast. Whether that’s pilfering from the decaying corpse that is the Pac-12, which has lost USC and UCLA and reportedly could lose Oregon too, or asking Boise State or someone else, who knows?

But it does beg this question: When the playoff expands to 12, it will have six guaranteed spots for the champions of the Power Five conferences (yes, Coach Narduzzi, that still includes the ACC) and the highest ranked champ from the Group of Five.

But now with UCF and Cincinnati and BYU — and goodness knows which other future mid-major programs joining Power Five conferences — do we really need a locked-in spot for a Group of Five champ if all the above-average Group of Five programs are headed to bigger leagues?

Even if you take just the above three teams out of the Group of Five team picture, look at the teams that would have been in line for a playoff spot in recent years.

2021 — No. 23 Louisiana

2020 — No. 12 Coastal Carolina

2019 — No. 16 Memphis

2018 — No. 22 Boise State

You get the idea, and yeah, that sounds swell for a team ranked in the 20s to get a playoff spot. 

A good problem

OK, Vaughn Grissom is a dude, who is swinging a red-hot stick.

The Braves rookie infielder — who was called up after the team’s second-string second baseman was lost to injury — homered in Wednesday’s win over the A’s. Atlanta, in case you’re curious, is a half-game back of the Mets, who swept the Pirates in a doubleheader Wednesday.

So Grissom is 33-for-95, with five homers and is hitting .347. Continued over a full season, well, that’s a slam-dunk MVP campaign with 600 ABs friends.

It also begs the question of why in the name of Wild Thing Rick Vaughn (no relation) did it take this long for Grissom to get the call.

And what happens to Grissom’s torrid stick when Ozzie Albies returns in the next several days? Does Vaughn go to left? DH maybe?

It also makes the Dansby situation even more intriguing, no?

This and that     

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall with his weekly college football picks.

— Congrats to Peyton Ogle for winning the City Prep golf tournament Wednesday. Here’s more. 

— So, we mentioned the dreck that is everything Skip Bayless is involved in with Fox Sports. Here’s his master debate partner Shannon Sharpe’s list of the NFL’s most accurate quarterbacks. He has Joe Burrow one, and that’s fine I suppose. But a top-10 list of most accurate QBs in the league that does not have Aaron Rodgers in the top 10 is so nonsensical I almost decided not to link it. But here are the 10 names he picked ahead of Rodgers. Sigh. 

— I’m on the Bills big tonight at minus-2.5 for whatever that’s worth. And remember the Eliminator Pool.

— Davis Love III announced his captain’s picks for the President’s Cup team. Jordan Speith and Collin Morikawa are among them. 

Today’s questions

Free for all Thursday, so fire away.

What would you do with Vaughn Grissom when Ozzie Albies returns?

Can you name 10 NFL QBs more accurate all-time than Aaron Rodgers, forget playing today?

As for today, Sept. 8, let’s review.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” debuted nationally on this day in 1986.

“Psycho” was released on this day in 1960.

“Star Trek” appeared on this day on NBC in 1966.

Patsy Cline would have been 90 today. 

Rushmore of the female legends of country music, and does Cline make it?

Go and remember the mailbag and the Eliminator Pool.