NCF Nation: 09 week 14 picks

Non-AQ picks, Week 14

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:07
AM ET
Not many picks this week since most teams have completed their seasons, but there is the Mid-American Conference championship game and the Conference USA championship game, which both should be great matchups. Also, there are two WAC games that have bowl implications. A busy weekend as we head to bowl season.

Central Michigan 33, Ohio 28: Ohio had a tough road to get to the MAC championship game and that’s going to catch up with the Bobcats against a potent Central Michigan team that hasn’t had any trouble with any of the MAC foes it’s faced this year. This is quarterback Dan LeFevour’s final MAC game and he’ll want to make it count. Ohio's a little banged up, including quarterback Theo Scott, who has been tremendous in the past couple of games.

Houston 41, East Carolina 38: This is a tough test for Houston. East Carolina played in this game last season, has a ton of seniors and is playing at home. However, the Cougars have played in tough road games before and excelled. They get up for these types of games. East Carolina hasn’t seen a team as offensively potent as Houston, but the Cougars don’t play much defense, which will likely make this one a shootout.

Illinois 34, Fresno State 24: Fresno State has lost to the two automatic qualifying teams it has played this season, but this game is about more than bragging rights. The Bulldogs need to win this game to be one of the most attractive teams in the at-large pool should Hawaii win its game. Fresno State is definitely fighting the other teams in its conference as well as the rest of the country for a bowl berth.

Wisconsin 28, Hawaii 12: Hawaii has been on a tremendous run to put itself back in bowl contention. It needs one more win to earn its automatic bid to the Hawaii Bowl to face former coach June Jones and SMU. But it won’t be easy. Wisconsin hasn’t lost a nonconference game this season, but it also doesn’t need this win to secure a bowl. Hawaii will have to play its best, but could catch the Badgers napping.

SEC championship game prediction

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:05
AM ET
The SEC flexed its muscle last week with South Carolina taking down Clemson and Georgia knocking off Georgia Tech.

I got one of the two right, but didn’t have the foresight to pick the Bulldogs. I was a ho-hum 5-2 for the week, also missing Mississippi State’s upset of Ole Miss.

For the season, that makes me 80-16 (.833) heading into Saturday’s SEC championship game.

In my contract, it stipulates that I get a limo ride to the Georgia Dome if I’m .800 or better at the time of the SEC championship game.

But that decision has gone to the replay booth, and the replay official is now saying that he’s counting SEC games only. Regrettably, I didn’t finish .800 or better in SEC games, which means I’ll probably be riding the media shuttle to the game.

I’ve got to get a better agent.

Anyway, here goes with my SEC championship game pick. For the record, I correctly picked Florida last year:

Alabama 24, Florida 17: The Tim Tebow factor is difficult to ignore, and I understand he’s the reason a lot of people are picking the Gators. He’s a good reason to do so, and if he plays the way he did in the fourth quarter a year ago, the Gators probably will win. But my money’s on the Alabama defense being able to get some pressure on him and keep him out of those “third-and-Tebow” situations that he’s so good in, the third-and-3s and third-and-4s. Everybody’s making a big deal out of which quarterback is better in the fourth quarter. This season, Alabama’s Greg McElroy hasn’t exactly shriveled up in pressure situations. He’s 11 of 14 passing in the fourth quarter when the Crimson Tide have trailed. But that’s not the reason I’m picking Alabama. I like the Crimson Tide’s ability to be physical in the run game. I like the fact that Julio Jones has been more involved in the offense the last month of the season. I like the fact that Alabama is more complex on defense, according to coaches who’ve played both teams this season, and I like the fact that Nick Saban loses to the same team two times in a row about as many times as tickets go unused to the SEC championship game. I look for another classic battle. And this time, it’s simply Alabama’s turn.

ACC championship game prediction

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:04
AM ET
The ACC took one on the chin last week, and so did I. It was my worst week of picks. Ever. With a 2-6 record, now I know how Ralph Friedgen feels. Ugh. Florida State and Virginia Tech were the only teams I got right last week. That dropped my season percentage to 65.9 percent. I’ve got one conference pick left, and we all know it’s a coin toss. Here goes:

Clemson 28, Georgia Tech 24: First, about the score. Eleven of the past 14 games in this series have been decided by five points or less, so expect that trend to continue. This game features the ACC’s top two scoring offenses, two of the top three rushing offenses, three of the top five rushers in the ACC, and three of the top five touchdown scorers. That means this game will be about defense, and that’s where Clemson wins. Georgia Tech’s best counter is defensive end Derrick Morgan, but the Tigers go deeper on defense and have been more consistent. The last time these teams met, Clemson forced seven straight three-and-outs. That’s an impressive feat against the country’s leader in time of possession. The best matchup in this game will be on the sidelines between Paul Johnson and Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

Big 12 title game prediction favors the Longhorns

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:03
AM ET
The South Division has dominated play in the Big 12 in recent years. It will be up to Nebraska to turn things around and provide some competition in the championship game.

Here's how I see the game playing out.

Texas 28, Nebraska 13: The Longhorns are heavy favorites to claim Mack Brown’s second Big 12 title. Nebraska has been one of the hottest teams in the conference as the Cornhuskers have run off five straight victories after starting 4-3. And the Cornhuskers have a puncher’s chance of stealing an upset victory in this game. If they are to be successful, they must continually pressure Colt McCoy and contain Texas’ offense. And on offense, they can't be intimidated by the Longhorns' No. 1 ranked rush defense. Because so much of Nebraska's offense is based on running the ball, they have to keep trying Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, even if it isn't immediately successful. They do have hope after the Longhorns were gashed for 190 rushing yards and 532 total yards by Texas A&M last week. And Helu and Burkhead are an upgrade over the Aggies’ backs.

Nebraska must stay ahead of the chains and keep Zac Lee from long down-and-distance situations that have caused him to struggle this season. If the Cornhuskers are to be successful, they also must dominate the special teams with big efforts from punter/kicker Alex Henery and kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic.

But even with those weapons, Texas still has too many weapons. The Longhorns should get some big plays from receivers like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, Dan Buckner and John Chiles -- particularly if the Cornhuskers elect to double-cover Jordan Shipley. The Cornhuskers will stay close for much of the game, but the Longhorns should pull away late as they head to the BCS title game.

Last week: 5-0 (100 percent)

Season record: 74-23 (76.3 percent)

Who's going to win? Week 14 Pac-10 picks

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:00
AM ET
Went 4-0 last week to improve to 54-17 for the season.

Clearly, I've blown all my luck before my annual Vegas trip.

Oregon 31, Oregon State 28: Obviously, since I’ve been projecting Oregon in the Rose Bowl for weeks, I’ve been favoring the Duck. They have been the most consistently good team in the Pac-10 this season, and my feeling is they’d have a pretty fair shot against any team in the country. But this isn’t any team. It’s Mike Riley’s Beavers. There’s a pang in my gut that whispers upset. But not enough of one (and that may just be a bad breakfast burrito). I will say that if this game isn’t close, I’ll be surprised (and disappointed after all the build-up).

USC 24, Arizona 20: If Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles were healthy -- that non-throwing hand injury certainly bothered him vs. Arizona State -- and running back Nic Grigsby were starting, I’d pick Arizona. But that poor second half vs. the Sun Devils is stuck in my craw. And USC in the Coliseum remains hard to pick against.

California 35, Washington 21: The Bears have steadily -- and quietly -- risen in the Pac-10 since suffering those embarrassing consecutive losses to Oregon and USC. It seems like things are clicking on both sides of the ball, and the Bears certainly have the athleticism on defense to handle a scrambling Jake Locker. Moreover, Cal seems to have an advantage coming off a bye week while the Huskies might not be focused after winning the Apple Cup last weekend.

Big Ten picks: Week 14

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:00
AM ET
The Big Ten faces the WAC this week, as I get two more chances to pad my record before the inevitable disaster known as my bowl picks. Both of the contests this week were tough to call.

Fresno State 33, Illinois 30: Ryan Mathews will be the difference against Illinois, which hasn't seen many running backs of Mathews' caliber this season (the Illini didn't face Wisconsin's John Clay). Juice Williams tosses three touchdown passes, one to Arrelious Benn, in his final career game, but Fresno State eventually takes control behind Matthews and hands Illinois its ninth loss of the season.

Wisconsin 38, Hawaii 27: Too much John Clay in this one. The Badgers' star steamrolls Hawaii's defense behind his huge offense line and scores three touchdowns. Hawaii's passing attack keeps it close for a while, as Greg Salas causes problems for the Badgers' secondary, but Wisconsin end O'Brien Schofield makes some big plays in the second half. Clay wears down the Warriors in the fourth quarter and Wisconsin improves to 9-3.

Week 13 record: 1-0

Season record: 62-24 (.721)

Big East picks, Week 14

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
8:57
AM ET
You know your standards are high when you go 4-1 and your picking percentage goes down. But we have strive for perfection around here, and I'm doing my best to finish strong in the last week of the regular season.

Cincinnati 28, Pittsburgh 24: The Big One. My most important pick of the season. Oh, and also the biggest game of the year. I was leaning toward Pitt at home last week, but I have to stay with the defending champs after watching both play in Week 13. Sure, you can't read too terribly much into the Panthers' loss in a rivalry game on the road. But Tony Pike looked mighty impressive with six touchdowns in a triumphant return for Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been such an efficient machine, especially with their senior quarterback healthy, that they must get the nod. And picking against Brian Kelly has never served me well.

West Virginia 21, Rutgers 17: Start with the fact that West Virginia hasn't lost to Rutgers since Bill Clinton's first term. Still, that doesn't have much of an impact on this year's game. What will have an impact is the Mountaineers' fully healthy defense, and if it approaches any where near the level of intensity it showed against Pitt, it could be a tough night for a still-maturing Scarlet Knights' offense.

Connecticut 24, South Florida 20: There may be snow in East Hartford by Saturday night, which probably won't agree with the Bulls. But the weather won't be nearly as big a problem as UConn's running game -- Andre Dixon should join Jordan Todman in the 1,000-yard club this week -- and the fact that it's a road game against a decent Big East opponent. In case you haven't noticed, South Florida hasn't been too good in those games as of late. Connecticut ends the year on a three-game winning streak.

Last week: 4-1

Season record: 54-11 (83.1 percent)

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