NCF Nation: game predictions 120513

SEC championship game predictions

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
9:00
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Well, we're finally here. I'm sure we all got this SEC championship game right.

(Don't even try it, Auburn and Missouri fans!)

This might not be the matchup everyone saw coming, but it's going to be great when Auburn and Missouri get together in the Georgia Dome. I'm not sure if Atlanta is ready for an invasion of Tigers.

You know who else wasn't ready? Our buddy Chris Low. He tried valiantly to make a strong comeback this season in the picks but made a critical error last week. The veteran, the pro, the certified man picked against Mizzou at home against a struggling Texas A&M team. I learned from my mistakes, but Chris showed just how stubborn he is.

Last week, we both went 7-2 and missed on Auburn's thrilling 34-28 win over No. 1 Alabama. I slipped up and picked Ole Miss over Mississippi State but picked Mizzou in order to keep my two-game lead over Chris. Heading into Saturday's SEC championship game, I'm sitting pretty at 96-17 (.850), while Chris is 94-19 (.832).

Now is the time for Chris to make up some ground before bowl season, which will decide his fate. If he takes a three-game deficit into the most wonderful time of the year, he's toast.

Chris will be in Atlanta this weekend, which means he'll be hanging with his buddy Oscar and checking in on his favorite cat, Meeko. Distractions galore reside in the ATL … and Chris can only stay away from Buckhead for so long.

Here are our picks for the SEC title game:

MISSOURI vs. AUBURN

Chris Low: Between them, Auburn and Missouri won two SEC games last season, and eight of their combined 14 losses in the league were by 21 points or more. So if anybody says they had these two teams in the SEC championship game back in August, I’m not buying it. In retrospect, though, both teams were far more talented than they played a season ago. Missouri didn’t endure nearly as many injuries as it did last season -- particularly in the offensive line -- and first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was able to come in and help that program regain its edge. Both teams are capable of lighting it up offensively, but Missouri has proven to be a little bit better on defense. Combine that with it being next to impossible for Auburn to come back down from the emotional high of upsetting Alabama last week, and it all adds up to an SEC championship for Mizzou in only its second season in the league. … Missouri 31, Auburn 27

Edward Aschoff: I'm going to go out on a limb here and take the Tigers this weekend. Pretty easy one for me. OK, in all seriousness, this is a really tough pick this week. We have two high-powered offenses and two improved defenses. After AJ McCarron hit his 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper early in the fourth quarter, Auburn allowed just 53 yards and blocked a field goal before Chris Davis' magical return. As for Mizzou, these Tigers lead the SEC in sacks (37) and tackles for loss (95). We know both teams can move the ball and put points on the board, as they both rank in the top four in the SEC in total offense and scoring. The difference will be the play up front, and Auburn's running game has been ridiculous. I love what Mizzou has done up front, but Auburn can run power, triple option, read-option and loves to fool teams with formation deception. I think this one will be close, but Tre Mason, Nick Marshall and Auburn's running game will grind out another win. … Auburn 31, Missouri 27

Big 12 predictions: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
9:00
AM ET
Another week. Another failed attempt to defeat the guest picker.

With 10 minutes to go in Morgantown, W.Va., I was sitting pretty for an undefeated week. Then Grant Rohach turned into Dan Marino, and the Cyclones rallied from 17 points down before eventually beating the Mountaineers in a third overtime.

Like Oliver Luck with Dana Holgorsen, ESPN management had to issue a vote-of-confidence statement on my behalf. But I’m feeling the heat. And time is running out.

This week’s guest picker is Jason Hanzel, a student at Oklahoma State. I actually selected Jason a couple of weeks ago. But when he didn’t respond immediately, I went with another picker. Turned out, Jason was in class all day. Because I respect education, I gave him another chance.

To the Week 15 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-1 (.667)

Guest picker (Red Raider Shelley) last week: 2-1 (.667)

Trotter overall: 54-19 (.740)

Guest picker overall: 42-14 (.750)

SATURDAY

Baylor 35, Texas 31: The overwhelming consensus seems to be that Texas has no shot in this game. I disagree. If the Longhorns can do anything, it’s rush the passer, and since losing left tackle Spencer Drango, the Bears have not protected quarterback Bryce Petty all that well. Without Drango and speedy wideout Tevin Reese, "America's Top Offense" hasn't quite been the same. And if Texas can have success controlling the clock with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron between the tackles, as I expect it will, the Longhorns are capable of making this a fourth-quarter game. That said, Baylor has Lache Seastrunk and its fourth-quarter closer, Glasco Martin, back at running back. As a result, the Bears are able to grind out enough first downs late to hold off Texas and send Floyd Casey Stadium out in style.

Jason’s pick: Baylor these past two weeks has not been the same Baylor, but I do believe this team is completely different at home. Jackson Jeffcoat will get to Petty, but Case McCoy will be in the Case, meaning I've got to go with the Bears in Waco. Baylor, 38-28

Oklahoma State 40, Oklahoma 23: The Sooners are coming off their most impressive conference performance of the season in a win over Kansas State, and the best game of freshman QB Trevor Knight's young career. But on Saturday they face the top defense in the Big 12, a defense that clobbered Texas and Baylor in dominating back-to-back performances. Even though OU has won nine of the past 10 in the series, the Sooners have usually had to win shootouts against the Cowboys, as Oklahoma State has put up at least 40 points in four of the last five Bedlam meetings. This run-oriented OU offense is hardly equipped to score in the 40s, especially in the cold, on the road, against a veteran OSU defense that has proven to be one of the toughest in the country.

Jason’s pick: This game has the feel of 2011. If I was a betting man, I'd be taking my scholarship money to Vegas. Pokes in a rout! OSU, 42-20

AA put some distance between herself and HD with the picks last week. HD admits she choked with the vaunted predictions trophy on the line, going 4-5 in Week 14. AA kept chugging, going 7-2 to open up a four-game lead on HD in the overall standings. AA stands at 85-23 as we head into the postseason. Seems like a pretty insurmountable lead at this point.

No headway to be made this week, either -- not when the easy choice to win the ACC championship game is Florida State. Here is how we both see the game playing out.

AA picks: Exactly zero media prognosticators had Florida State playing Duke in the ACC championship game when the season began. Of the 120 ballots tabulated, only 15 declared the Seminoles their preseason choice to win the ACC. That handful of voters will turn out to be right after Saturday comes to a close. Florida State is too talented and too deep to have much of a problem with the Blue Devils. Duke has been such a terrific story to watch unfold throughout the course of the season, and the Blue Devils do have some rising stars in Jamison Crowder, Kelby Brown, DeVon Edwards and Jeremy Cash. They deserve an inordinate amount of credit for turning around a moribund program. But they still have a ways to go to match the upper echelon not just in the ACC, but in the nation. Florida State lost 11 NFL draft picks off last season's team; Duke has had eight players drafted in the last 20 years. So you see the talent disparity. Duke has never beaten Florida State and has lost by an average margin of 34.5 points per game. The Blue Devils are a much better team than they were the last time these teams played last season. But the problem for Duke? Florida State is a much better team, too. Florida State 48, Duke 10.

HD picks: The magic ends here, where good meets great. Duke will play better than many expect, as it has an opportunistic defense and the ACC’s coach of the year, but it won’t be enough to overcome the matchup problems the Noles’ elite talent will create. This won’t be as ugly as it was last year during the regular season, but it won’t be pretty, either. Duke has recruited talent and speed, but not enough to match the likes of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin or quarterback Jameis Winston. Florida State will win the turnover battle, and Duke’s defense will give up too may big plays and struggle to get FSU off the field on third down. FSU has given up more than 17 points just once this season (to Boston College). Duke’s preparation, discipline and determination will get it to 20, but it will only be good enough for a moral victory. Florida State 45, Duke 20.
Dinner is on Adam in Indianapolis on Friday night, thanks to Brian's nailbiter of a win in the regular-season picks contest. But we all know the main course arrives Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

We've got a bona fide heavyweight tilt in the Big Ten championship game, with national title implications at stake. It's time to crown a champion, and we need to be in championship form with these predictions ...

No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (11-1, 8-0) versus No. 2 OHIO STATE (12-0, 8-0)

Brian Bennett: What a matchup this is, with the unstoppable force that is the Buckeyes' offense colliding with the immovable object of the Spartans' defense. I expect Ohio State to put up its lowest point total of the season as the "No-Fly Zone" led by Darqueze Dennard keeps the Buckeyes' air attack mostly grounded. And I expect the Spartans to make some plays on offense with Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford as they exploit some of the weaknesses of Urban Meyer's defense.

To me, this game comes down to one guy: Braxton Miller. He always seems to rise to the occasion in big spots, and this is the biggest game of his career. As good as Michigan State's defense is, it will have a hard time containing Miller and Carlos Hyde for 60 minutes, and Miller can flummox the best of defenses with his open-field running ability.

The Spartans take the lead into halftime as Cook is sharp early on, but Miller gets loose for a 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Ohio State the lead. Then he and Hyde grind out first downs in the fourth quarter to protect it. Still, both teams can bite down on some roses, because they're both headed to Pasadena. ... Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24

Adam Rittenberg: This is the matchup we've been waiting to see, and I can't wait for kickoff Saturday night. As I often do, I've changed my mind several times during the week. Michigan State should handle Ohio State's offense better than any defense has all season. Then again, Big Ten championship games are high scoring since teams no longer have to deal with the weather. Cook has never been on a stage like this and could show his inexperience. Then again, he has answered every challenge to date. And Miller hasn't played in a game of this magnitude, either.

I keep thinking back to last year's title game, where Nebraska came in as a favorite but clearly looked intimidated by the setting and the stakes. Wisconsin was the much looser team, played like it and spanked the Huskers. These are two different teams -- I think Michigan State will be the looser one, as the Spartans are likely headed to the Rose Bowl either way. Ohio State finally has the national title game in its sights. How will the Buckeyes hold up against the best team they've faced since 2011?

Ohio State jumps ahead early, as it almost always does, but the Spartans settle down and force two turnovers midway through the game. Cook attacks the secondary with the play-action and fires touchdown passes to Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery. Miller puts Ohio State in front midway through the fourth quarter with a touchdown run, but the Spartans answer behind Cook and Jeremy Langford, who finds some running room late. Michigan State ends this title game on the right side of a special-teams play, as Michael Geiger kicks his third field goal for the win. And the SEC rejoices. ... Michigan State 30, Ohio State 28

As you probably know, we've selected a guest picker each week this season to compete with us. For a game this big, we thought we needed to do something special. So we reached out to a couple of celebrity guest pickers from each side who have ties to Indianapolis as well.

First up is former Ohio State running back Daniel "Boom" Herron, who's now with the Indianapolis Colts. Herron picks the Buckeyes to win 31-17, saying, "I have confidence in my team and coaching staff. I haven't really watched [Michigan State], but I don't think they can stop our offense, and our defense will get the job done."

Our second guest picker is former Michigan State center Jason Strayhorn, an Indianapolis native who's now an analyst for the Spartans' radio network. Strayhorn says, "I think the game will come down to not only red zone defense, but also whose weakness is stronger: Michigan State's passing game versus Ohio State's pass defense. I say Connor Cook throws for 270 yards and Michigan State wins 28-24. I say that because that was the score we had when we went to Columbus and beat the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes in 1998."

Thanks to Boom and Jason for their picks. We'll find out who's right Saturday night.

SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 80-16
Adam Rittenberg: 79-17
Guest pickers: 75-21

Pac-12 championship game predictions

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
9:00
AM ET
Kevin and Ted, with the exact same picks, went 5-1 last week and improved to 74-17.

Just one game on tap, but it's a biggie.

Saturday: Pac-12 championship game

STANFORD at ARIZONA STATE

Kevin Gemmell: That this game is being played in Tempe is scary. I don't have a great history picking road dogs this season. ASU, riding a seven-game home winning streak, is a much stronger team in the desert and both of Stanford’s losses have come on the road. The defense has been on a tear since the Notre Dame loss and QB Taylor Kelly’s increased production in the run game has given the offense a boost. The question is whether the offense can be as potent without Marion Grice. Having Grice and D.J. Foster on the field at the same time allows the Sun Devils to do a lot of different things. That element is missing. I see Tyler Gaffney breaking 40 carries again as the Cardinal control the clock and keep ASU’s offense off the field. Stanford 31, Arizona State 28.

Ted Miller: In the Sept. 21 game -- a 42-28 Stanford blowout that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates -- Arizona State gave the Cardinal two interceptions and two blocked punts. It was a messy performance from an ASU team that was learning who it was. Over the past seven games -- all wins -- the Sun Devils have matured. They won't be the sloppy team they were at Stanford. They are 7-0 at home this year with an average margin of victory of 28 points. They won't reach that margin against the rugged Cardinal, but they are going to do enough to earn the school its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1996 season. Arizona State 28, Stanford 24.

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