NCAA Football Predictions: Week 12 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 11/14/2016
Well, that was interesting! Week 11 around college football looked like it should go chalk for all the top national championship contenders. Alabama, the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, did its job as a 28.5-point home favorite against Mississippi State, blowing out the Bulldogs 51-3.
But all heck broke lose behind the Tide. No. 2 Clemson was a 21.5-point favorite at home against Pittsburgh and was shocked 43-42. It you have seen the Tigers play this year, you know they have played with fire a few times. It finally caught up with them. Deshaun Watson threw for an ACC-record 580 yards to go with three scores but he was picked off three times. Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt made a 48-yard field goal with six seconds left to win it. He was in position for that kick because Pitt stopped Wayne Gallman a yard short on third and fourth downs to take over near midfield with 58 seconds left. Clemson dropped to No. 5 in the new AP poll and probably will be at that spot in the new CFP Top 25 on Tuesday night.
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The big question is where will Louisville be? The Cards are No. 3 in the AP Top 25 but were No. 6 in the latest CFP Top 25. I don't know how the committee could rank Louisville over Clemson since the Tigers won the head-to-head matchup and will play in the conference title game with a victory at Wake Forest this week.
CFP No. 3 Michigan was upset at No. 14 Iowa on Saturday, losing 14-13 as a 24-point favorite. I was all over taking those points because it was only Michigan's second game outside its own state all season - and the offense looked completely different with just 201 yards. The Wolverines are No. 4 in the new AP poll and I think they are fine for the playoff a long as they win out because they would still get such a major boost with a victory in two weeks at Ohio State, which is the No. 2 team in the new AP poll.
By the way, should Ohio State beat Michigan now and Penn State win out, the Nittany Lions would play in the Big Ten title game as the East's winner. How about that! Could the committee somehow include Penn State in the final Top 4 over Ohio State? The Lions do have that head-to-head win but were crushed by Michigan. What if Wisconsin beats Penn State in the Big Ten title game but has losses on its resume to Michigan and Ohio State?
Finally, CFP No. 4 Washington dropped to No. 7 in the AP poll following a 26-13 home loss to No. 20 USC. That game wasn't even that close as the surging Trojans were clearly the better team. But I think Washington is still fine for the playoff as long as it wins out. It might see USC again in the Pac-12 title game. It was the first time since Oct. 19, 1985, that the Nos. 2-4 teams in the AP poll all lost on the same day. Rather ironically, one of those teams back then losing was No. 2 Michigan at No. 1 Iowa in a game that Wolverines head coach was the quarterback for UM.
Here are a few Week 12 opening lines that caught my eye. Rankings from the last College Football Top 25 (which will change Tuesday) and games Saturday unless noted. There are a lot of potential "trap" games this week with several powers facing cupcakes ahead of a big season finale rivalry game.
No. 6 Louisville at Houston (+14), Thursday: It's the final true road game of the season for Louisville and the Cardinals aren't going to get much of a bounce by beating Houston because the Cougars have struggled since being ranked as high as No. 6. Spectacular QB matchup here between lock Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Houston's Greg Ward Jr., who is a very similar player. That's if Ward plays. He surely will, but Ward has been dealing with a shoulder injury all season and aggravated it in Saturday's win over Tulane. There's no way the senior misses his final home game, also likely the final home game as Houston coach for Tom Herman, who seems likely to be at either Texas or LSU next year. UH has won 14 straight at home, the second-longest home winning streak in the nation behind Navy. It's the first time Houston will host a Top 5 team - and Louisville certainly will move up in the CFP Top 25 - since 1983. Ward outplayed Jackson last year in a 34-31 win at Louisville, but Jackson wasn't even the Cardinals' full-time starter yet. The pick: Houston (but Louisville wins).
Indiana at No. 3 Michigan (-26): This is one of those trap games I was talking, although Indiana isn't that bad this season. The Wolverines could be caught looking ahead to the Ohio State game and now come reports that starting QB Wilton Speight has been lost for the rest of the season to a broken collarbone suffered against Iowa in his non-throwing shoulder. Speight has completed 160 of 257 passes (62.3 percent) for 2,156 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. He might be able to return for a bowl game. Houston transfer John O’Korn would take over. He has played a bit this year and is 13 of 18 for 114 yards and two touchdowns. A lot of people thought he would win the starting job in fall camp. Harbaugh isn't confirming anything yet, not I would expect him to. The pick: Indiana to cover.
Florida at No. 24 LSU (-14): This game was originally scheduled for Oct. 8 in Gainesville but postponed due to Hurricane Matthew and then moved to Baton Rouge for this week after the ADs of both schools couldn't agree on playing at UF at some point this season. Now LSU will have to visit the Gators the next two years. Alabama already has clinched the SEC West title. If Florida beats LSU, the Gators (who might be without starting QB Luke Del Rio for the second week in a row) will repeat as East Division champion. But if UF loses and Tennessee beats Missouri and Vanderbilt to close out the season, the Volunteers will win the East for the first time since 2007 because UT beat Florida earlier this season in a huge comeback. The Tigers are in good shape to claim a Sugar Bowl bid should they complete the regular season with wins against Florida and Texas A&M. This will be LSU running back Leonard Fournette's final home game as he's going pro. The pick: UF covers but LSU wins.
No. 11 Oklahoma at No. 16 West Virginia (+3): All that chaos on Saturday certainly improved the Big 12's chances of sneaking a team in the playoff, although it's still a long shot. The Sooners are the only Big 12 team without a conference loss. Oklahoma State and West Virginia each have one. WVU would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker to the Cowboys but should win its final two games after this one at Iowa State and vs. Baylor, which has lost starting QB Seth Russell for the season. Oklahoma has just the Bedlam game on Dec. 3 against the Pokes remaining in the regular season. OSU visits TCU this week. WVU has won eight straight at home but hasn't beaten Oklahoma since joining the Big 12. The Sooners also have won 14 straight Big 12 games, the longest in the conference since Texas won 20 straight from 2004 to 2006. The pick: Oklahoma.
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