Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 5:34 PM
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND REPORT:
WE PREVIEW THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES… PLUS OUR NFL WEEK 14 NEWS & NOTES
By Jim Hurley
Just consider the possibilities (we didn’t say probabilities!) when it comes to Saturday’s wall-to-wall Football action of College Football Conference Championship Games:
Will #2 Ohio State lose to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship Game and thus open the door for the Auburn-Missouri winner to stake a claim in this year’s BCS Championship Game?
Or what happens should – let’s say – Auburn or Mizzou win in a blowout in the SEC Championship Game matchup that nobody saw comin’ and the Buckeyes just barely sneak past defensive whiz Michigan State … will that push the SEC winner past Ohio State and into the title tilt on January 6th in Pasadena?
And will Stanford walk into Sun Devil Stadium and beat favored Arizona State and thus push the Cardinal back into a second straight Rose Bowl?
No doubt there could be major mayhem in the final year of the BCS – what, you’d be surprised by that? – but the flip side says that if all the betting favorites win out on this first Saturday in December then here’s some of what would happen down the road:
* Florida State and Ohio State would meet in the BCS Championship Game and the SEC would be left in the cold for the first time since the 2005 season (remember Texas 41, USC 38?) …
* Auburn – a 2-point betting choice at this moment – would play in the Sugar Bowl against UCF …
* Arizona State (a 3-point fav against aforementioned Stanford) would play Michigan State in this year’s Rose Bowl …
And the Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl matchups would look like this:
* Alabama vs. Baylor (Orange Bowl)
* Oklahoma State vs. Northern Illinois (Fiesta Bowl)
So go ahead and chew on that!
Now, let’s examine the conference championship slate!
On Friday night, it’s …
MID-AMERICAN CONF. CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – at Detroit, MI
BOWLING GREEN (9-3, 7-1 MAC) vs. #14 NORTHERN ILLINOIS (12-0, 8-0 MAC) – 8 p.m. ET, espn2
It’s the fourth straight season that the Northern Illinois Huskies are playing in this MAC title game and worth noting that the Dawgs haven’t covered a single championship game yet … they lost 26-21 to 19-point dog Miami-Ohio back in 2010; beat Ohio (+ 3 ½) 23-20 in ’11 and last year snagged a 44-37 overtime win/push against 7-point dog Kent State … hmmm.
If Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch – who broke his own single-game QB rushing mark with 321 yards on the ground in last week’s 33-14 non-cover win against Western Michigan – isn’t wrapped up at/near the line of scrimmage here, then 3 ½-point underdog Bowling Green could be playing catch-up all night long here at Ford Field.
Note that the BG Falcons have allowed a grand total of 17 points scored in their last four games, but keep in mind Bowling Green’s lost its last seven in a row to ranked opponents.
Spread Notes – Northern Illinois is 24-9-2 ATS (against the spread) in MAC games since the start of the 2010 season while Bowling Green has covered 10 of its last 14 away games.
On Saturday, it’s …
CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP – at Houston, TX
MARSHALL (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) at RICE (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) – 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
All eyes here are on Marshall QB Rakeem Cato, who has been a supreme stat-sheet stuffer this season:
Note that Cato enters this road game with 3,314 yards passing and 34 TD throws (only 8 INTs) to go along with 254 rushing yards and 6 ground scores, but Rice does own the nation’s 12th-ranked pass defense (allowing just 190.3 ypg) and the unsung Owls could spring the upset here if RB Charles Ross (1,143 yards rushing and 12 TDs) keeps the chains moving.
Spread Notes – Marshall is a rock-solid 8-4 versus the vig this year but the Herd’s just 2-4-1 ATS away in 2013. On the flip side, Rice has covered 13 of its last 19 overall on-the-board tilts.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – at Atlanta, GA
#5 MISSOURI (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. #3 AUBURN (11-1, 7-1 SEC) – 4 p.m. ET, CBS
Much is being made of the fact that these teams combined to win just two SEC games last year – Mizzou beat Kentucky and Tennessee, that’s it! – and now they’re here bucking heads in the 2013 SEC Championship Game, but the real here-and-now story is what’s left in the Auburn emotional tank one week after the “happiest return” epic win against Alabama?
The Auburn folks – including first-year boss Gus Malzahn – claim they won’t have any difficulties “getting up” for this tilt with a potential BCS Championship Game on the line, but it says here that Auburn better make some big “chunk plays” in the passing game and everyone knows these Tigers rank just 105th nationally in passing offense this year.
Can QB Nick Marshall – who somehow stayed behind the line of scrimmage for that critical 39-yard touchdown pass to WR Sammie Coates that tied the game in the final minute against ‘Bama last weekend -- work up some more magic here against a Missouri team that sports one of the country’s best pass rushers in Michael Sam?
On the flip side, the Missouri offense won’t be shy about airing it out with QB James Franklin eyeballing WRs Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington – each of these pass-catching dudes have 10 TDs this year.
If you’re looking for a real X-factor here, then consider – what else – special teams.
Last week Auburn profited from Alabama’s shabby field-goal kicking (although we ain’t blaming that kid for the missed 57-yarder at the end) and keep in mind Missouri PK Andrew Baggett is just 14-of-21 this year on field goals, and that includes two big misses in the team’s lone loss twin-OT to South Carolina.
Can you imagine if Baggett is short on a 50-plus yarder here and Auburn’s Chris Davis … oh, just forget about it!
Spread Notes – Auburn roars into this SEC title tilt riding a nine-game pointspread winning streak and did you know that War Eagle is 17-9 ATS as favorites the past three-plus seasons? Missouri owns a four-game spread winning streak at press time and these Tigers are 13-4 ATS overall dating back to late in the 2012 campaign.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY
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This Year there are 6 Title Games to sink our teeth into!
C-USA Marshall vs. Rice (NL) on ESPN2
SEC Missouri vs. Auburn (-1.5) on CBS
ACC Duke vs. Florida State (-29) on ESPN
PAC-12 Stanford vs. Arizona State (-3) on ABC
BIG 10 Ohio State (-5.5) vs. Michigan State on Fox
MOUNTAIN WEST Utah State vs. Fresno State (-3) on CBS
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ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – at Charlotte, NC
#20 DUKE (10-2, 6-2 ACC) vs. #1 FLORIDA STATE (12-0, 8-0 ACC) – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s just a rumor that the Florida State Seminoles already reserved hotel rooms in/near Pasadena for the BCS Championship Game – but who could blame the top-ranked team in the land for being a tad overconfident here as 28 ½-point betting favorites for this clash against Cinderella-like Duke?
If Florida State QB Jameis Winston (3,490 yards passing with 35 TDs and just 8 INTs) wishes to put an exclamation point on his Heisman Trophy season – pending his potential legal woes, that is – then look for him to ravage a Duke defense that ranks a pedestrian 50th nationally against the pass while yielding 225 yards per game.
Best hope for David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils to “hang in there” here?
Pop WR Jamison Crowder (88 catches for 1,131 yards and 7 TDs) deep on first-down play fakes and hope some of the Florida State D-backs are asleep at the wheel.
Spread Notes – Duke is an electric 10-2 against the odds this magical season and the Blue Devils are a perfect 5-and-oh away spreadwise after going 1-5 ATS a year ago. Florida State’s covered its last five consecutive games this year en route to a 10-2 ATS and note the ‘Noles are 12-6 ATS as twin-figure favs since the middle of last year.
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – at Tempe, AZ
#7 STANFORD (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) at #11 ARIZONA STATE (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) – 7:45 p.m. ET, ABC
Keep in mind that this is a rematch game:
Stanford snagged a 42-28 win/cover as 7-point home favorites versus Arizona State way back on Sept. 21 as the Cardinal rushed for 240 yards – and so the question here is that “advantage, Arizona State”?
If this ASU Sun Devils’ squad is gonna become the first team in school history since 1997 to make it to the Rose Bowl, then QB Taylor Kelly (3,337 yards passing and 27 TDs this year) must be sharp and he must make some big first downs with his legs, too – a bit like one-time Stanford greats John Elway and Andrew Luck, if you will.
No doubt this is a “legit” Arizona State team that ranks 22nd nationally in total offense and 24th nationally in total defense, and no way will A-State fall behind 29-zip as was the case in that aforementioned first meeting between these teams this year … right?
Spread Notes – Stanford is 35-19-1 ATS (against the spread) in Pac-12 games since the start of the 2008 season. Arizona State, meanwhile, is a delicious 19-9 versus the vig in all home games the past five years and that’s good for a shiny .679 winning rate.
BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – at Indianapolis, IN
#10 MICHIGAN STATE (11-1, 8-0 Big 10) vs. #2 OHIO STATE (12-0, 8-0 Big 10) – 8:15 p.m. ET, Fox
Let’s see if that “immovable object” otherwise known as the Michigan State defense – one that’s allowed 17 points or less in nine different games this season – is gonna get pushed around here by a high-octane Ohio State offense that has scored 40-or-more points in 10 different games this 2013 season.
If you’re looking for a “magic number” of sorts here, we’ll state that Michigan State must hold the Buckeyes to below 30 points if Mark Dantonio’s crew wants to take his team to a Rose Bowl game. So, much of that falls on Michigan State’s rather pedestrian offense that has to chew yards/clock behind on-the-rise RB Jeremy Langford (1,210 yards rushing with 16 TDs) who could be one of many players in this game to benefit from playing on a “fast track” inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Note that the Buckeyes -- who average 48.2 points per game (that’s third-best in the land) – may sport a glittery offense but the key here is whether or not physical RB Carlos Hyde (1,290 yards rushing and averaging a nifty 7/8 ypc) can get 25-or-more touches here and whether he can slam it home in goal-line situations. Sure, Ohio State QB Braxton Miller is a dynamic playmaker, but this team purrs when Hyde is piling up the yards and leaving tacklers in the dust!
One final X-factor of sorts here:
Michigan State punter Mike Sadler is a Ray Guy Award semifinalist who has been the not-so-secret weapon when it comes to flipping fields for this red-hot (see eight consecutive wins) Spartans’ squad … will he be a bit factor here?
Spread Notes – Ohio State’s skidding a bit spreadwise while heading into this tilt as the Buckeyes have failed to cover their last there in a row and did you know O-State is just 13-11 ATS under second-year boss-man Urban Meyer? Michigan State is 7-4-1 spreadwise overall this year and note Sparty is 8-2-1 ATS as an underdog side the past three years.
MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – at Fresno, CA
UTAH STATE (8-4, 7-1 MWC) at #23 FRESNO STATE (10-1, 7-1 MWC) – 10 p.m. ET, CBS
Gotta say that we were never “sold” on Fresno State as a BCS-buster type this year despite the fact Tim DeRuyter’s squad skated to the winner’s circle in each of its first 10 games this year prior to last week’s 62-52 home loss against 10 ½-point home dog San Jose State.
The fact is Fresno State needed overtimes to beat both Rutgers and San Diego State this season and – as you can see in our Spread Notes below – the Bulldogs didn’t always bash folks as they won four games by a touchdown or less. Quarterback Derek Carr comes off a crazy stat season in which he’s thrown for 4,462 yards and 45 TDs, but our question is why’s Fresno State “only” a 3 ½-point home favorite here?
Utah State ranks 11th in the country in total defense and has held seven foes to 17 points or less this year. Just sayin’!
Spread Notes – Fresno State is a rotten 3-7-1 against the odds overall this season and that includes a 1-5 ATS mark at home (after going 5-0 ATS as hosts last year). Utah State comes into this under-the-lights tilt at 8-4 vig-wise this year and the Aggies are 9-3 ATS as pups the past three years.
Important Note …
My handicappers and bloggers have everything all scoped out and you can get the College Football Conference Championship Games plus other key regular-season tilts and also all the NFL Week 14 games too when you check with us here at the red-hot Jim Hurley’s Network – make sure you’re all aboard for the week/weekend action online here at www.vegassportsmasters.com or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155.
Hey, don’t sleep on hoops winners at this time of the year as America’s #1 Handicapper gets you all the College Basketball and NBA winners each and every day!
NFL WEEK 14
Here’s a question we must pose while heading into the final quarter of this 2013 NFL regular season:
Is everybody getting a little bit ahead of themselves with these countless predictions that Super Bowl 48 at MetLife Stadium will be a battle between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks?
Sure, it appears the “road” to the Super Bowl will be going through those respective cities, but even if the Broncos and Seahawks wind up as the #1 seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively, don’t think it’s a slam-dunk that this is the SB 48 matchup – what, the NFL isn’t littered with No. 1 seeds that were beaten at home in recent playoff seasons?
Hey, want to know who has done one of the NFL’s best under-the-radar coaching jobs?
How about Arizona’s Bruce Arians, who has the Cardinals (7-5) in the thick of the NFC wild card race despite sporting the 24th-best rushing attack in the league and despite the fact QB Carson Palmer has thrown 17 INTs to go along with his 19 TDs? Okay, so Arians and Company still have a Week 16 road game in Seattle and a Week 17 home game against San Francisco but if they steal one of them and finish 10-6 SU (straight-up) then we’ll be penciling in Arians name as Coach-of-the-Year material.
Hey, let’s examine two key NFL Week 14 tilts here, with a reminder that we’ll have a batch of previews/forecasts in tomorrow’s weekend edition of "Jim Sez":
SEATTLE (11-1) at SAN FRANCISCO (8-4) -- 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox
No one needs to remind the defending NFC champion San Fran 49ers that they’ve lost their last two showdowns against archrival Seattle by a composite score of 71-to-16 – and the fact is it could have been much worse!
The Niners have really been beaten to the ball and beaten up these past two games against their NFC West “pals” – a 42-13 loss in Seattle on the next-to-last regular-season weekend a year ago, and then in a Week 2 tilt in Seattle in which San Francisco lost 29-3 and never had a shot.
The 49ers believe home cooking will help, of course, even though the pointspread stats show the Niners are just 7-6 ATS at “The Stick” in their last 13 home games, and be reminded that SF could be without two offensive linemen here as LT Joe Staley is likely out (knee) and G Mike Iupati (knee) could be missing his third straight game, and so QB Colin Kaepernick might be running for his life and looking for WR Michael Crabtree (see key 60-yard reception in last week’s 23-13 win/cover against St. Louis) to make some major downfield plays.
Seattle’s already clinched a playoff bid by virtue of the Seahawks’ 34-7 win against New Orleans this past Monday Night, but did you know that Pete Carroll’s club ranks first in pass defense (177.3 ypg) while Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch has cranked out five TDs in his last two games against San Francisco – hey, folks, this will be the last time the Seahawks are in the underdog role the rest of this 2013 season (trust us!).
Spread Notes – Seattle is 8-4 against the Las Vegas odds this season and the Seahawks are 15-8 ATS in divisional duels dating back to late 2009. San Francisco, meanwhile, is 8-3-1 ATS this season and the Niners are a collective 30-16-3 ATS in the Jim Harbaugh Era (a tidy .652 winning rate).
DETROIT (7-5) at PHILADELPHIA (7-5) – 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Here’s the facts:
The Philly Eagles have won their last four games in a row while the Detroit Lions are comin’ off their first Thanksgiving Day win since 2003 … so what could be wrong for either of these teams?
Well, the Lions are a minus 13 in the all-important turnover category (17 turnovers and 4 takeaways) in their past five games, and someone has to tell QB Matthew Stafford that he can’t be a modern-day reckless gunslinger while the Eagles come into this clash ranked dead-last in the NFL in pass defense (allowing 297 aerial yards per game) – who’s gonna guard WR Calvin Johnson here?
Spread Notes – Detroit is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 against the Las Vegas price tags this year, but did you know the Lions are 5-11-1 ATS in non-NFC North games since the start of last season? On the flip side, Philadelphia is also 6-6 ATS in Year One of the Chip Kelly Era and the Eagles enter this bash at 1-12-1 odds-wise at home since the start of 2012 … egads!
Note: Get more NFL Week 14 game previews tomorrow as we check out Indianapolis at Cincinnati, Tennessee at Denver and – of course – the monstrous Sunday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers at the New Orleans Saints!