Fab 4 picks
In some ways this is the toughest week of the year for regular entertainment hunters. The dye is cast for a lot of programs, but there still is a chance for some season-saving moments for some.
Vegas has a very good grasp of the tendencies and patterns of these teams. They also are daring you to continue some very entertaining trends of teams that have been decidedly consistent. With that, we are riding all favorites.
We also are noticeably avoiding totals because it's impossible to know what effects the weather may have considering cold snaps and early darkness.
Syracuse minus-21 over Louisville. This game is Friday night, and we ready to get this weekend started with some entertainment. Vegas is trying to find a number to dare you not to bet against Louisville. And this one is not high enough. At home on a Friday night, the Orange is going to be the next team in line to exploit this folding House of Cards. How bad has Louisville quit? Try these numbers: A six-game losing streak. Seven losses total by 37, 24, 4 — against an equally dreadful FSU — 35, 18, 21 and 61. Now comes a short week and a second straight road trip to one of the better teams in the ACC. Is this one going to be entertaining to watch? Nope. Is it going to be an entertaining start to the picks. Absolutely.
Georgia minus-14 over Auburn. Buy the hook to help the back-door pressure. This one screams 10-7 with two minutes to go in the second quarter and a 38-10 final. Here's why: Auburn simply can not run the ball against pretty much anyone. A one-dimensional team — be it UK last week or AU this week — is going to always struggle against the Saban family tree of defensive dudes. Who's on the UGA sideline? Kirby and Mel Tucker, two of the most accomplished branches on the Saban family tree. Auburn is pretty salty defensively, but here comes the game that too many three-and-outs will leave that group on the field too much and D'Andre Swift will own the second half. Are we in the rare spot of cheering against one of the Fab 4? Yes, we are. But the only loyalty in the search for entertainment is being loyal to the bottom line.
THE Ohio State minus-3 at Michigan State. Dewayne Haskins is going to have a monster day and THE Fightin' Urbies have to be tired of hearing the "What's wrong with THE Ohio State." There is truth in that story line, but THE issues in Columbus are defensively and Michigan State is not explosive enough to exploit that. Because it's one of those numbers that we avoid, buy the half, but here's betting this is a two-score game. Sometimes, you simply have to side the more talented side, and we can all agree that of the 22 starting spots on a football team, THE Ohio State has, what, 16 or 17 of the dudes who would start if we combined these teams?
Alabama minus-whatever against Mississippi State. We get it. It's the week after LSU and there's evidence that the week after playing LSU and Alabama are always tougher than the rest. We know Alabama is everyone's Super Bowl. We know that Mississippi State has allowed the fewest TDs in the country and only four — yes 4! — TD passes this year. But this Alabama is different. The number is 24 right now and the only way this game is remotely close is if Tua Tagovailoa does not play. Period. And remember when we discussed before about one-dimensional teams struggling against the Saban family tree, well, how is Cowbell U. going to stay within four TDs of THIS Alabama team counting on Nick Fitzgerald to throw for 250?
Cincinnati minus-13.5 over South Florida. Here's the deal: This is the type of game that Vegas wants you to go, "What? A ranked team getting almost two TDs?" Let's review. South Florida was a hollow 7-0 that included a one-score win over the dreadful UConn Huskies. Then came back-to-back blowout losses and the spiral is happening. Now comes a Saturday night trip to Cincy, which is physical and playing as well as anyone not named Alabama or Clemson right now. Forecast is set for 20 degrees — not exactly the warm and fuzzy feel of South Florida — and USF has zero intention to be physical with the Bearcats.
Texas A&M minus-11.5 over Ole Miss. The Aggies have been on the road since the first week of October. Last week has to still sting after the Aggies simply folded in the final six minutes at Auburn and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Well, here comes the best tonic in the SEC West: The Ole Miss defense, which is allowing 499 yards per and 210 rushing yards per. Ole Miss had a gut-punch loss too last week, and here's betting that one will linger. Here's also making Aggies running back Travion Williams an even-money pick for SEC player of the week next Monday.
Last week: 5-3 against the spread (62.5 percent)
This season: 39-26-1 against the spread (60 percent)
College football items of interest
The best Group of 5 game. Yes, the UCF folks have their banana hammocks in a tight wad about being ranked 12th, behind a two-loss LSU (7) and a two-loss UK (11). Yada-yada-yada. Well, you know what? Forget the playoff talk Joe Golden Knights Fan, we're not entirely sure UCF is the best Group of 5 team in the country. Fresno State plays late Friday night at Boise State, and believe it or not, FSU may be the best college football team in all of California. Think about that.
Monster favorites atop the polls. The top handful of teams are huge favorites this week. Alabama minus 24; Clemson minus 20; Notre Dame minus 17.5 over FSU; Michigan minus 39 at Rutgers; Georgia a two-TD pick over Auburn; Oklahoma minus 20, LSU minus-14. Do we think any of them lose? No, not really. That said, if you wants us to pick a couple of these games that could be scares for any of the top seven? OK. If LSU played anyone other than the artists formerly known as Arkansas, we'd be willing to play against LSU simply because of the physicality that is Alabama and the egg the Tigers laid on such a national stage. But can anyone seriously back Arkansas against any Power 5 team right now? The other one: BC is pretty salty. They like to run the football. Steve Addazio has crafted an SEC-like team in Chestnut Hill. It's at home for BC, and this is the 25-year anniversary of the great BC win over Notre Dame in 1993 that gave Auburn the national championship*. (* — According to Jay Greeson and the 5-at-10 college football almanac.) One more fact of note: Since the start of the 2016, there have been 22 20-point-plus favorites to lose outright. Only two schools have dropped games like that twice: Virginia Tech and Clemson. Hmmmmmmmm.
Preview of the SEC basketball championship. That's right UK-Tennessee happens this weekend in Knoxville and the Vols are a growing underdog. It started at 3.5 and it's grown to 6 as of now. Hmmmmmm. OK, yes, we are at a place in which UK is a clear favorite over Tennessee. In football. That's where we are. And now the question is not why are the Cats favored, it's why are they not favored by more. How UK rebounds after having their dreams of a trip to Atlanta dashed by a very good Georgia team that played like a very good team. Here's thinking UK will play well — you can sell a 10-win season and a New Year's Six bowl trip to this team and they are back in quickly — against a Tennessee team that was bad last week.
Good Old-fashioned Quit. Mark Richt vs. Paul Johnson in November has been a staple in Georgia for most of the decade. And Mark Richt has enjoyed it way more than the other way around. But the former Georgia coach brings his Miami team to Georgia Tech this weekend in a precarious spot. Miami is reeling — last week's home loss to Duke was not a good look — and playing that Tech offense, at night, in the November cold sounds about as much fun as a root canal. Will the warm weather Cane's respond? (And yes, we almost made Tech minus-3 one of our picks, but as our man and Press Row cohost David Paschall knows, picking ACC games is like juggling Jell-O.) OK, side point: Because of what we do, we get to talk to a lot of college football coaches in various avenues. Part of the gig. Paul Johnson, the Georgia Tech coach, is one of our favorites to talk to. He's right there with Leach and Mullen and a few others. Mark Richt, while not one of the more entertaining interviews, is one of the nicest guys in the BID-ness. So there's that.)
OK, last week's monster matches were going to be almost impossible to replicate.
You had Brady-Rodgers. We had Saints-Rams. It was fun, and viewed by monster numbers.
This week? Yeah, not so much.
But this NFL season has been way more fun that last year. Whether that's the lack of the protests — or more likely the lack of the go-nowhere discussions about the protests — or the excellent quarterback play that has been helped by the new rules, who knows.
It's better, and that's enough for us. (It's not enough for us to watch the one-win Raiders vs. the one-win Giants next Monday night in a true match-up of the loser is actually the winner because the loser takes, for all intents and purposes a two-game lead in the race for the No. 1 overall pick. Tanks for playing. See what we did there. We can hear the starting lineups now: "For the Raiders.Starting at quarterback.. Spy. At left tackle. Alejandro.)
But there is one NFL game — and it's tonight actually — that features two teams that in six weeks will be among the sneaky dark horses to make the playoffs.
Carolina at Pittsburgh tonight. Count me in.
As for the future of each, well, each is built for January success and each has a robo-QB that has been there before.
And while we all are whistling with wonder at the high-flying antics of the Chiefs and the Rams, well, here's wondering how Mahomes and Goff handle those moments when you are down four with five minutes to play and it's third-and-6 in a swirling wind in 28-degree temperatures in Foxboro or in the deafening Dome in the Big Easy.
Cam and Big Ben are vets. And they are almost impossible to tackle.
This and that
— Here's a letter to Jerry Jones from a 7-year-old Cowboys fan that echoes the sentiments of every Cowboys fan everywhere.
— Late point of order this Thursday morning. Please know that CBSsports.com is reporting that Notre Dame QB Ian Book is not going to play against FSU. If that line drops a bunch in the next 24 hours, that is likely why.
— The Mets GM has announced that Tim Tebow will start the 2019 baseball season in Triple-A. In 84 Double-A games last year before he broke a bone in his hand that required surgery, Tebow hit .273 with six homers and 36 RBIs. Also of note: Binghamton is called the Rumble Ponies. That's cool. Also, also of note: The Mets new GM is some dude named Brodie Van Wagenen — yes, that's a hoi polo name for sure — and he used to be an agent. One of his clients was some dude named Tim Tebow.
What interests you on this college football weekend of monster favorites?
On this day two years ago, Donald Trump was elected president.
Speaking of Trump, this whole CNN thing is silly for a slew of reasons.
The Trump haters talk about he needs to be more civil and presidential. And there's truth to that.
But doesn't the CNN dude need to be more civil and professional, too?
And sweet buckets, the outrage of the news people about this is ridiculous. Imagine one of those dudes asking Saban a question he didn't care for? He'd make a few of them start squalling.
On this day 52 years ago, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California.
Vlad the Impaler was born on this day in 1431, and as far as old-school conquerors go, 'The Impaler' is one kick-butt nickname.
On this day in 1887, Doc Holliday died. Which of course makes any red-blooded American think of Val Kilmer's turn as Doc in "Tombstone."
Let's do a Rushmore of best characters from a Western, and let's go in the last, say 30 years.
Go and remember the mailbag.