NCF Nation: week 13 picks
Last week, I got chesty about my run of undefeated weeks and even talked trash to the other ESPN.com bloggers about how my record was the best on the site. The results were predictable.
Last week's 1-2 record was my worst showing of the year. I'm half-convinced that Syracuse won its first Big East game since 2006 over somebody other than Louisville just to deflate my ego. Oh, well. We've got a full slate of games this week, and I enter it humbled and hungry.
Pitt 24, West Virginia 17: Pitt has owned West Virginia the past two years, and this is the best Panthers team that Dave Wannstedt has brought into the Backyard Brawl. Given how the Mountaineers have struggled to score points over the last month and change, plus how well Pitt is playing defensively, I see this becoming a three-game win streak and setting us up for the mother of all Big East showdowns on Dec. 5.
Cincinnati 38, Illinois 17: The Illini are dangerous, especially on offense. They put up 38 in a win over Michigan and 35 in a victory at Minnesota. But the Bearcats have had a week off to prepare, and they've gotten an earful about how they weren't as impressive as TCU the past two times out. With that as motivation, and the return of Tony Pike at quarterback for Senior Day at Nippert Stadium, I sense a big performance coming.
Rutgers 20, Louisville 12: This is not one that fans of exciting offense will want to DVR. The Cardinals are the lowest-scoring team in the Big East, while Rutgers has plenty of trouble moving the ball. I think the Scarlet Knights are still smarting from last week's loss at Syracuse and won't repeat the same mistakes they made. Louisville has been sneakily decent defensively and will keep this game close. But Rutgers' blitz packages and cornerbacks will prevent the Cardinals from finding the end zone enough to win.
Miami 31, South Florida 24: This is exactly the kind of game you can envision South Florida winning. Sold-out stadium, players jacked up against an in-state behemoth. The Bulls certainly rode a tidal wave of emotion to great effect at Florida State in September. But this Miami team is better than the Seminoles and has the athletes to contain B.J. Daniels as the Hurricanes' defense showed in a win over option-happy Georgia Tech earlier in the year. South Florida hangs around and has a chance to win late but will have to settle for one defining win over the Big Three this season.
Connecticut 23, Syracuse 13: I get the feeling that the Notre Dame win lifted a burden off UConn's shoulders after all those close losses, and the team will finish strong down the stretch. I also get the feeling that the Orange emptied their payload in the Rutgers win at home. The Huskies probably aren't capable of really blowing anyone out, and the Syracuse run defense can keep Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon below their normal stats. But in the end UConn gets bowl eligible without too much resistance.
Last week: 1-2
Season record: 50-10 (83.3 percent)
One more to go. Let's finish strong.
Stanford 35, Notre Dame 28: What possible evidence do we have to suggest Notre Dame can win this game?
The Irish defense has been steamrolled in the running game for three straight weeks, and now it must somehow deal with the bull in a china shop that is Toby Gerhart, the nation's third-leading rusher. Gerhart and quarterback Andrew Luck should have a fun time at Jon Tenuta's expense, and you know Jim Harbaugh wants to drop the hammer as much as possible, just like he did against USC.
Notre Dame doesn't have much to play for, with a coach on his way out and already saddled with five losses. But to pick anything more than a seven-point margin would be to ignore the history of this season. Perhaps Weis rallies the team around him for a last stand; more likely, it will resemble Custer's attempt at the same feat.
Last week's pick: Notre Dame 28, UConn 24
Actual score: UConn 33, Notre Dame 30 (2OT)
Season record: 8-3
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Only two games this week, but one of them will be as big as any gets in college football this season. Here are my picks.
Oklahoma 45, Texas Tech 42 -- Two teams with legitimate Big 12 title hopes and Bowl Championship Series aspirations will meet in the biggest game at Owen Field since 2000 . The Oklahoma defense is banged-up without key producers like Auston English and Ryan Reynolds. And Texas Tech has been on this stage for the last several weeks and still hasn't blinked. But I still like the home-field advantage to provide the slimmest of margins to the Sooners, who are 59-2 at home, have the nation's longest active home winning streak at 23 games and haven't lost there since the opening game of the 2005 season. Keep an eye on the Sooners' kick coverage after Bob Stoops has had an extra week to work out the kinks. The difference will be an aggressive Oklahoma defense that leads the nation in turnover margin and will come up with a couple of big plays that will boost them to a victory. I'm still a little dubious about Texas Tech's ability to make a clutch long field goal when it really needs one. And despite offensive weapons like Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, I believe the Oklahoma defense will rise up with a strong performance that powers them to the win. The Sooners' victory will mean we will carry the regular-season excitement over for one more week. Would we really have it any other way?
Kansas State 38, Iowa State 28 -- Something's got to give at Bill Snyder Family Stadium as Kansas State brings a five-game losing streak and Iowa State will try to stem a nation's-worst 16-game road losing streak. It will be Ron Prince's final game as Kansas State's head coach and it will be interesting to see how his team reacts. The Wildcats were atrocious defensively last week against Nebraska and even Josh Freeman floundered enough to get himself benched early in the second half. Even with those struggles, the Wildcats still will have an edge against Iowa State's weak pass defense. The clincher could be their propensity to make big plays on the special teams. Look for Prince to go out a winner in his final game with the Wildcats.
My picks last week: 5-0 (100 percent)
My picks for the season: 77-12 (86.9 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
My pride was bruised last week, and I blame it all on North Carolina, Wake Forest and Florida State. For the first time all season, I had a losing record on my picks (2-3). I enter the week 55-27 (67 percent) on the season. Let's see if I can't redeem myself this weekend. In order for that to happen, though, UNC and FSU need some redemption, too.
Miami 17, Georgia Tech 16 -- This should be a defensive struggle, but Miami has one or two more playmakers on offense than the Jackets, and that will be the difference.
North Carolina 24, NC State 21 -- Home team. Plain and simple. The Tar Heels are hungry to redeem themselves after the loss to the Terps and are playing to stay in the Coastal Division race. Russell Wilson will keep the Pack in it, though. Might even be one of those OT games.
Virginia Tech 31, Duke 10 -- Without their leading rusher and possibly their quarterback, the Blue Devils will struggle to find points. Even if Thaddeus Lewis does play, he'll do so in Lane Stadium, where Virginia Tech hasn't lost this season.
Boston College 21, Wake Forest 17 -- The Demon Deacons' offense has struggled all season, and it's not going to solve any problems against BC's front seven, especially when the Eagles have a trip to Tampa on the line.
Florida State 24, Maryland 21 -- Asking Maryland to play-to-back outstanding games might be asking a little much, regardless of venue. The Terps' home-field advantage will not be able to overcome FSU's size and speed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time for the final round of regular-season picks. Rivalry week in the Big Ten brings some intriguing matchups, especially the one in State College. Let's see if I finish strong or fall on my face in lucky Week 13.
Ohio State 31, Michigan 14 -- It will take a complete performance from Michigan merely to have a chance, and the evidence against the Wolverines is simply too strong. They might play well for a quarter or a half, but mistakes are inevitable, particularly on offense. Ohio State won't take Michigan lightly despite its record, and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells continues his November brilliance in what could be his final game at Ohio Stadium.
Purdue 28, Indiana 27 -- Given Joe Tiller's impact at Purdue and as an offensive innovator in the Big Ten, it'd be nice if the Boilers offense showed up in his final game. This hasn't been a typical season for Tiller at Purdue, which won't be going bowling and ranks last in the league in scoring (21.3 ppg). Indiana is finally healthy, and the Hoosiers will play hard in the season finale. But Purdue comes up big at the end with a game-winning touchdown drive.
Penn State 30, Michigan State 23 -- When it comes to talent, Penn State has the edge at most positions. But the Lions are trying to regain their swagger and need to stop questioning the offensive play calling. Michigan State might be the most cohesive team in the Big Ten, and the Spartans will perform a lot better than they did against Ohio State. But Daryll Clark eventually will get things together, and a big-play offense led by Evan Royster and Derrick Williams proves too much for Michigan State.
Wisconsin 40, Cal-Poly 27 -- This won't be an easy game for Wisconsin. Cal-Poly can put up a ton of yards and points, and the Badgers' defense has been anything but air-tight this season. The difference, as usual, will be Wisconsin's power run game. Cal-Poly defenders will be no match for bruising Badgers running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay, both of whom rush for 100 yards or more in the regular-season finale.
Northwestern 28, Illinois 24 -- A very tough game to pick. Illinois has more overall talent and needs a win to get bowl eligible, but it's impossible to ignore the inconsistency the Illini have shown through the first 11 games. Games are won and lost in the red zone, and Illinois ranks eighth in the league in red-zone offense, while Northwestern ranks third in red-zone defense. Corey Wootton and the Wildcats do enough to slow down Juice Williams on senior day.
Minnesota 24, Iowa 21 -- What's the final week of picks without an upset? Sure, Minnesota could be emotionally spent after last week's loss to Wisconsin, but star wide receiver Eric Decker returns to an offense that functioned well at times against the Badgers. Iowa has done nothing significant on the road this season, and though Shonn Greene will have another huge game, the Hawkeyes commit a critical turnover or two down the stretch and come up short.
Season record: 66-16 (80.5 percent)
I have to break a real sweat this week, with five whole games to pick. But that's OK, because I'm coming off a perfect 3-0 week and am ready for a late-season roll. Bring it on.
Cincinnati 24, Pittsburgh 23: I like Pitt's matchups in this game. I also like the Panthers' ability to win on the road and the fact that they had an extra week to prepare. Yet, Cincinnati just seems to have that look as a team of destiny. This is the Bearcats' biggest moment and they'll find a way to come through.
West Virginia 28, Louisville 17: The Cardinals have lost three straight and their confidence has to be shaken right now. That's no way to face West Virginia. The Mountaineers had better avoid their habit of starting slow, or else they'll let Louisville believe it can win. I see Pat White having a big game against a defense that is stout but not particularly fast up front.
Rutgers 33, Army 14: They were playing "Taps" over Rutgers' season just a few weeks ago, but after Saturday the Scarlet Knights will be bowl eligible. Army's only wins have come over Tulane, Eastern Michigan and Louisiana Tech, and the boys from West Point will be no match for Kenny Britt, Mike Teel and the punishing Rutgers defense.
Notre Dame 27, Syracuse 14: Maybe the Orange rally around their fired coach and win one for the Greggers. More likely, they'll keep things close for a half and then fold late, which is pretty much the pattern of all their non-Louisville games this season.
Connecticut 22, South Florida 19: It's impossible to pick the Bulls to win any game right now. Their season is in tatters, the secondary is getting shredded and quarterback Matt Grothe has spent half the week wearing a boot. They have the look of a team just hoping the season will end. UConn, on the other hand, is rejuvenated by the return of Tyler Lorenzen at quarterback and still believes it can win the Big East. Give me the stable team over the unstable one every time, even on the road.
Last week: 3-0
Season results: 36-21 (63.2 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
My upset special of Washington over UCLA? Nope. California ruining Oregon State's Rose Bowl dreams? Nope, take 2.
A 3-2 mark leaves me at 52-14 for the season.
Arizona 30, Oregon State 27: Arizona has the offensive line to slow down the Beavers' fierce pass rush and the skill and experience to make plays and score. Plus, the Wildcats are a different team at home. Of course, this prediction rests on the ability of the Wildcats' defense to play like it did in the second half at Oregon, not the first. They must limit big plays from the Rodgers brothers and Sammie Stroughter.
California 24, Stanford 17: It's a big game that lives up to its name as Stanford is fighting for its first bowl berth since 2001 and California is trying to improve its bowl positioning and regain the Axe. Both teams want to run, and Stanford does that better. But Cal is better at stopping it. Both quarterbacks have been inconsistent this year, but it seems like an opportune time for Cal's Kevin Riley to prove worthy of the Memorial Stadium love he's received through these past months.
Washington 27, Washington State 24: After all the quips about these two teams' place at the bottom of college football -- yes, guilty as charged here, too -- these two rivals will get after each other with passion and intensity. Bet on it. The Cougars' cause was helped greatly by the return of quarterback Kevin Lopina to practice Wednesday after he was knocked out of the Arizona State game with a concussion. That gives them a chance. But looking at the totality of both seasons and rosters, it just seems like the Huskies have more ammunition, despite their winless record.
If you're looking for a prediction for Saturday's Holy War, you're not going to find it here. No, I'm saving that one for Friday.
No reason to take away from the many other good games with bowl implications.
Although the Holy War is all most people are talking about this week, there are several key games in the WAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA, which could change the conference championships and the bowl picture.
Buffalo 27, Bowling Green 21: Bowling Green is still trying to get into the MAC East race, but Buffalo has been one of the hottest teams in the East during the past month. The Bulls are going to have a lot of confidence after a big win over Akron last week and the Falcons' 88th-ranked rushing defense is going to have trouble with James Starks.
Rice 42, Marshall 20: Who knows which Marshall might happen to show up this week. Will it be the one that dominated Houston or the one that tanked against UAB? Marshall has two games to get two wins for bowl eligibility and one is against a strong Rice team that's still angling for a C-USA West title.
Memphis 27, UCF 13: Memphis has been on a tear the last quarter of the season and is just one game away from bowl eligibility. The Tigers get starting quarterback Arkelon Hall back from a broken thumb, but he'll be going against a tough UCF secondary that will be looking to take advantage of his rustiness.
Houston 48, UTEP 32: Now that Houston has bowl eligibility, it's setting its sights on winning C-USA West. The Cougars are the only team of the three at the top -- Tulsa and Rice -- that controls their own destiny and that starts by denying the Miners their bowl eligibility in a shootout at home.
TCU 35, Air Force 17: TCU needs the win to have a chance at a piece of the Mountain West title, and after a week off, the Horned Frogs should have their minds right to finish the season. The Horned Frogs' top-ranked rushing defense should have little trouble with the Falcons' option offense.
Wyoming 24, Colorado State 21: This is a sentimental pick. It might be wishful thinking that Wyoming would want to send its coach off on a high note (c'mon, we all know it's coming), but it seems like the right thing to do. A win against rival Colorado State would deny the Rams a bowl game.
Troy 31, Louisiana-Lafayette 17: A month ago, I would have picked this game the other way. But with the Ragin' Cajuns pretty banged up and Troy firing on all cylinders, it's tough to pick against the Trojans, even if they did tank at LSU.
Florida Atlantic 40, Arkansas State 31: With the exception of Troy, no Sun Belt team is playing better in the conference right now than FAU. Winners of four straight, the Owls have put themselves back in contention for a second consecutive Sun Belt title, and I don't think ASU is going to stand in their way.
San Jose State 21, Fresno State 17: Both of these teams are fighting for a bowl berth, along with Louisiana Tech and Nevada. San Jose State, which is playing in its final game of the regular season, needs a win to keep Fresno State out of a bowl. The Bulldogs still have to play Boise State. This game will be low scoring, probably with two turnovers each.
Boise State 42, Nevada 40: It's difficult to pick against Boise State since it's undefeated, but there's a revenge factor here that's going to make this one of the more exciting games of the weekend. Last year, these teams played four overtimes in Boise and Nevada's been thinking about it ever since. But I think the Boise State defense comes up with the last crucial stop.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
And down the stretch I come. I was 4-1 last week, missing Vanderbilt's 31-24 win over Kentucky. I guess I got caught up in the "same old Vanderbilt" trap. But this is clearly not the same old Vanderbilt. These Commodores are making a strong bid as the best team in school history. With 13 games left to pick, counting the SEC Championship Game, I'm now 65-18 (.783) for the season. That means to reach my goal of finishing .800 or better for the season, I've got to hit 12 of the next 13 games. Anybody know any good tips services? I'm not going to get ahead of myself. It's been a good season, but it's not over. As Nick Saban says, the minute you slow down to enjoy your success, that's when you're in trouble. Here are my picks for Week 13:
Ole Miss 28, LSU 24: The newly named Magnolia Bowl has a lot riding on it this year. Namely, the winner positions itself nicely for a Cotton Bowl bid. The Rebels (6-4, 3-3 SEC) would also need to beat Mississippi State to end the season, but an 8-4 team Ole Miss team on a five-game winning streak could just about write its ticket to Dallas. LSU almost wrote its ticket to the most embarrassing loss of the Les Miles era last week, but managed to rally from a 31-3 second-half deficit and beat Troy. Did that comeback re-energize the Tigers, or are they merely limping to the finish? Here's betting the answer is somewhere in between, and Ole Miss snaps a six-game losing streak against LSU to win a thriller at Tiger Stadium.
Vanderbilt 17, Tennessee 14: The pressure is off Vanderbilt, which got that ever-elusive sixth victory needed for a bowl game last week in a 31-24 win over Kentucky. The Commodores went into that game 0-17 since 1982 in contests in which they could have become bowl eligible. They can also do something Saturday that hasn't been done since the 1930s, and that's win a second game over Tennessee in a four-year span. The last time that happened was 1935 and 1937. The Vols were off last week after bumbling through the most listless performance of the Phillip Fulmer era the week before in a 13-7 home loss to Wyoming. Nice way to honor your longtime coach who's been forced out, huh? Tennessee's defense deserves much better. John Chavis' unit has played gallantly all season. As for the offense, let's just go ahead and put it out there: It's the worst Tennessee offense we've seen since the color television set was just starting to pop up in most American households.
Arkansas 24, Mississippi State 21: Injuries have rocked Mississippi State all season. The latest was to defensive tackle Jessie Bowman. The Bulldogs are coming off a punishing, physical game against Alabama, while Arkansas had a week off to get some players healthy, namely tailback Michael Smith (shoulder). The Razorbacks (4-6, 1-5 SEC) still have a chance for a bowl game if they can win their last two against Mississippi State and LSU. That's a tall order, but they haven't lost to the Bulldogs since 1998 (nine straight wins) and will find a way to get their 10th in a row regardless of which brother (Casey or Nathan Dick) is playing quarterback.
Florida 49, The Citadel 0: Talk about a team naming its score. The Gators' reserves could probably name their score in this game against the outmanned Bulldogs. The biggest concern for Florida is not getting anybody hurt with a trip to Florida State looming on Nov. 29 and then the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6. It should also give Urban Meyer a chance to play some of his younger players. During its six-game winning streak, Florida has been a team that has come to play no matter the opponent. That maturity is going to be tested Saturday with the Gators going into the game knowing they're so superior in talent. The last thing they want right now is a sloppy performance.