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Fans storm the field after Notre Dame defeated the Clemson 47-40 in two overtimes in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)

Fab 4 picks

If BYU was playing this week, they would be among the picks. Alas, the unbeaten and severely disrespected Cougars do not suit up again until Dec. 12.

BYU was ranked No. 14 in the college football playoff committee's first poll released Tuesday night. The top four were predictable, although Clemson edged THE Ohio State for the 3-spot behind top-ranked Alabama and Notre Dame.

Texas A&M is 5, Florida 6 and two-loss Georgia is 9, all ahead of the 9-0 Cougars, who have the nation's best margin of victory at 33.7 per game.

In truth, I wonder about a lot of the teams positioning for playoff spots and what kind of 'style points' they will be hunting this weekend.

There are a few teams that control their fate. Alabama, which likely has a mulligan considering what it's done in an SEC-only schedule to the tune of winning all seven of its games by an average of better than 30 points per, is chief among that group.

So too is THE Ohio State, which could be hunting an impressive showing against Illinois on Saturday since the rest of the Buckeyes' schedule is pretty dreckirific.

There are three others that control its fate, including one-loss Clemson and one-loss Florida. If those Tigers and Gators win out it would mean conference title-game wins over Notre Dame and Alabama, respectively, and then all heck breaks loose.

The other that controls its fate is Northwestern, because if the Wildcats win out, it would mean a win over THE Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and that would springboard them into the four.

But those are the answers, what about the biggest question: Does Notre Dame get in with one loss, if that loss comes to a COVID-recovered Clemson team in the ACC title game? In that case, the Irish would need that loss to be by single digits and neither Alabama or THE Ohio State to lose its conference title game.

In some ways, a lot of the chatter about where Cincinnati fell (No. 7) and where BYU plummeted to is being covered by the very realization of the long-held belief that is being proven true right before our eyes.

Notre Dame being an independent has always been an unfair advantage that is being magnified in the corona-forced scheduling of 2020.

With that, let's go to the picks.

Notre Dame minus-4.5 over North Carolina. This line is screaming toward the Tar Heels, and normally you look for injuries or betting trends when lines move multiple points. In 2020, you have to be cautious of COVID of course, so naturally this drop from 7.5 to 4.5 is eye popping. (Update: Notre Dame issued 191 tests in its program last week, and had zero positives.) Still, the Irish are built from the center out and that's enough for me, even if UNC has the best QB Notre Dame has faced all season. 

Oklahoma minus-11 over West Virginia. The Mountaineers are very similar in style and talent to Oklahoma State. Oklahoma crushed Oklahoma State last week, and it kind of feels like the Sooners are going to engage in a scorched Earth tour after those two early losses.

Oklahoma State-Texas Tech under 56.5. Speaking of the Fightin' Gundys, I know what you're thinking: "What, an under? In a Big 12 game? Greeson has finally lost Auburn-lovin' mind." No, these two teams prefer to run. A lot. And here's thinking the Gundy bunch — which is pretty salty defensively — is going to play with a chip on its shoulder pads.

Central Michigan minus-7 over Eastern Michigan. Buy the half, and in this crazy season of unpredictability in almost every way except my predictably mediocre picks so far, we've had more MACtion success than almost anywhere else. This is not the best MACtion game — that would be unbeaten Kent State vs. unbeaten Buffalo — but this is the best bet. War Chippewas.

Mississippi minus-9.5 over Mississippi State and over 67. Does the over feel too easy? Kind of. But look at the scenario and the steps to this spot for a crazy Egg Bowl with two wild and crazy head coaches. Fact 1: Ole Miss has put up 54 and 59 in its last two games against defenses that are at least as good if not better than Mississippi State. Fact 2: Ole Miss was off last week, and you have to believe the showman that is Lane Kiffin has been using parts of various practices throughout the season getting ready for this very game.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread (40%)

This season: 27-28 against the spread (49.1%)



The Match and betting

Speaking of gambling, I received an email with some fascinating betting options on the upcoming next version of The Match.

This made-for-TV golf event will pit Phil Mickelson and Chuck Barkley against Steph Curry and Peyton Manning. And yes, I'm a sucker for these things and the Tiger and Peyton vs. Phil and Brady match early during the pandemic was a lot of fun.

This one will not be as good in terms of the golf, but with Manning and Barkley involved the comedy seems certain to increase when they hit the course on Friday.

The format is a modified alternate shot, according to Golf Digest, with the key word being modified. Mickelson and Barkley will each hit a tee shot, then will go play his teammate's drive. So, yes Mickelson will go hit Barkley's dreadful drive and Barkley will go get to play from the fairway some 300 yards off the tee.

After each has hit a second shot, they will go pick which ball they are going to use and play that ball in alternating from there.

I know it sounds confusing, but I have to believe that once the flow starts it will be more clear.

What is not confusing is some of the great betting lines being offered, according to SportsBettingDime.com, and as you would expect, the round clown prince of college hoops analysis is a central part of a lot of them.

Mickelson and Barkley are a slight underdog at plus-120 (bet $100 to win $120).

Odds for Chuck to make a hole-in-one: 10,000-to-1.

Odds for Chuck to hit the longest drive among the amateurs: 200-to-1.

Odds for Chuck to be caught cursing on camera: 1-to-2, which means you have to bet $200 to win $100.

Odds for Chuck to hit the ball in the water: 3-to-1.

Odds for Chuck to swing and miss: 4-to-1.

Fore sure I'll be watching.



From MVP to ...

Lamar Jackson was a unanimous MVP last year.

This year he's struggling mightily, and the Ravens are facing the reality of being the best team in football last season and a fringe playoff team this season.

The Ravens also are at the franchise crossroads that define NFL teams.

Every team looks for a QB it believes in. Heck, that window now is as short as a season for first-round picks — ask Josh Rosen — and considering the Dolphins have multiple first-round picks over the next couple of drafts, if they are not sold on Tua being that guy, then those conversations will be tangled-ovailoa.

(Side note: Justin Herbert is the truth, friends. For real. The ball explodes out of his hand, and the TD he threw to Keenan Allen on Sunday was a ball that you'd expect from a Rodgers or a Favre and not many others because it had that kind of zip on it. Watch it here. It's next level good friends.)

That said, the Ravens have to have a conversation about the future, because Lamar's rookie deal is about to expire.

And not to go all Bill Polian, who famously said Jackson would need to play WR to succeed in the NFL, an opinion that got turned racial and all but ended his career as an analyst. (Side question: Was that a fair result for the NFL Hall of Fame GM, because he was panned almost all of last year? It's not like he went Jimmy the Greek on anyone or even an Al Campanis on Nightline back in the day.)

Still the conversation must be had because before you can overhaul your salary cap for a franchise QB, you have to believe that QB can get you to a Super Bowl.

Look at the extensions and the decisions:

— DeShaun Watson is playing great but the missing pieces — and Bill O'Brien's terrible decision-making as a GM — leave the Texans in that place that they have a QB but not enough help;

— The Eagles won the Super Bowl and paid Carson Wentz, and now they are committed and terrible;

— The Chiefs signed Patty Mahomes to a very team-friendly deal and now look to have a championship window that goes on for half a decade;

— Seattle committed to Russell Wilson, but has augmented his weapons through the draft and changed the culture of the franchise from the Legion of Boom and defensive-oriented champion to a QB-centric contender;

— The Bears will assuredly break-up with Mitchell Trubisky, the same way the Bucs and the Titans parted ways with Jamies Winston and Marcus Mariota.

So what will become of Lamar, because I don't believe Polian was right, but I also don't believe it's as clear a dunk as you would expect for a former unanimous MVP.

 
This and that

— Thought this was funny and interesting. An ESPN producer put a poll on InstaGram that asked if the Eagles should give the keys to Jalen Hurts? Among the yes votes were Seattle players DK Metcalf and DeeJay Dallas. Seattle plays the Eagles on Monday night, so there's that.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on Mac Jones aiming for a better Iron Bowl showing this time around and Georgia not playing Georgia Tech this week. That's sad. I have always enjoyed that rivalry game.

— The semifinals for the NFL Hall of Fame were announced Tuesday afternoon. Among the new names on the ballot are slam-dunk choices Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson. Other first-timers are Calvin Johnson (who is also kind of a lock) and Jared Allen, who has a pretty awesome résumé with 136 career sacks, which is the equivalent of having like 3,000 hits in baseball.  Remember, the NFL has at most a five-man class, which makes those decisions even more difficult.

— I hope everyone is staying safe doing whatever you plan to do this Thanksgiving. We mentioned last week in an A2 column that the numbers after the holidays when kids go back to school likely will rise. This story about college kids returning home for the holidays also portrays a grim forecast for the numbers on cases on the horizon. C'mon vaccine. Hurry up and get here.

— Couple of really interesting items in this story from the Vandy student paper that a) the COVID has hit the Commodores special teams so hard, they turned to the women's soccer team, b) among the names of the other five females to kick in college football games, I covered two of them in high school, and c) who would have guessed the Vandy student newspaper is called "The Hustler." So there's that, that and that.  

— Meant to include this Tuesday — been one of those crammed weeks, you know? — but our NFL picks have inched to 25-23 on the season against the spread. No, it's not the 65-plus percent we hummed along at last season, but we're crawling week-by-week north of the Mendoza line for entertainment seeking.

— College basketball starts tonight. Allegedly.

— We mentioned it in the comments Tuesday, but it's worth repeating. It's difficult to find issue with the Braves giving Charlie Morton a one-year, $15 million deal to complete arguably the deepest rotation — if healthy — in baseball. Now if it that becomes Morton AND Ozuna rather than Morton OR Ozuna, then the Braves are ready to rock.

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which Thanksgiving side are you most excited about?

Which way will the Ravens go, sign Lamar long-term or reset the franchise?

Which SEC rivalry other than the Iron Bowl is your favorite?

Which Barkley prop bet is the most entertaining?

As for today, Nov. 25, let's review.

Christina Applegate is 49 today.

Rushmore of favorite sitcom daughters, because Kelly Bundy could make a strong case.

Go and remember the mailbag.

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