NCAA Football Predictions: Week 13 Opening Line Report and Picks
Rivalry Saturday is actually Week 14, but one big rivalry game is played this Saturday: UCLA at USC. Perhaps I shouldn't have said "big" rivalry game because nationally this hasn't meant squat for at least a few years.
UCLA likely is going to finish below. 500 for a fourth straight season, although the Bruins could get bowl eligible with an upset here and then a home win over Cal the following Saturday. Coach Chip Kelly is safe in Westwood only because that school is strapped financially - which is hard to believe if you have seen the campus and how much it costs to go there - but Kelly will enter 2020 on the hot seat.
It's the regular season finale for the Trojans, and I wonder if it's the final game as head coach for Clay Helton. A couple of weeks ago, the school hired Cincinnati's Mike Bohn as its new athletic director to replace Lynn Swann, who stepped down. The entire USC athletic department is a bit of a mess with the football team a huge disappointment, the men's basketball program under investigation - former Trojans assistant Tony Bland pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery by accepting cash to steer players at the school to certain financial advisers and business manager - and former USC senior athletic director Donna Hienel, water polo coach Jovan Vavic and ex-women's soccer coaches Ali Khosroshahin and Laura Janke all caught up in that "Varsity Blues" scandal that nabbed celebrity moms Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman.
One of the first questions directed toward Bohn was about the status of Helton, and at the time he said it was too early to discuss Helton's future because he needed time to evaluate it. Surely would be a massive upset if Helton is back, and what's really the point of letting him coach some meaningless bowl game? USC needs to act fast in hiring a new coach from a recruiting standpoint, and just about everyone believes it's a two-man competition for the job: Urban Meyer and current Penn State coach James Franklin.
Meyer obviously would come easy because he's working as a Fox analyst, but there have been reports out of L.A. that USC president Carol Folt doesn't want Meyer for whatever reason and that the hiring of someone with no ties to Meyer in Bohn makes that point clear. Meyer has been close with all the previously athletic directors he worked with.
Franklin surprisingly has just a $1 million buyout but would command a massive contract. That's chump change for someone of his caliber and a school with such deep pockets as USC (it's private while UCLA is public). Why would Franklin leave a pretty good situation? Six years might be enough in Happy Valley and he can't seem to get the Nittany Lions past the goliath of Ohio State in the Big Ten East. There is no goliath in the Pac-12. Franklin also seems to like the spotlight, and few jobs bring more attention than head coach at USC.
The Trojans are 14-point favorites over the Bruins (I'll be taking UCLA at +14.5 if it gets there or buying the half-point). Here are a few other Week 13 opening lines that caught my eye with rankings from the most recent CFP Top 25 and some certainly to change on Tuesday. Games Saturday unless noted. Picks are ATS.
No. 19 Texas at No. 13 Baylor: (-6) The Bears' chances of reaching the College Football Playoff - and probably the Big 12's chances as a whole - ended when they choked away a 28-3 second-quarter lead at home and lost to Oklahoma 34-31 on Saturday. Baylor would, though, clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game (almost surely against the Sooners) with a victory here. Texas's chances of reaching the conference title game took a huge hit with a 23-21 loss at Iowa State on Saturday. The Cyclones hit a 36-yard field goal as time expired. It was actually the first time ever that ISU was a betting favorite in the series. Texas ran the ball 26 times for 54 yards. Baylor lost 23-17 in Austin last season even though Horns starting QB Sam Ehlinger was knocked out in the first quarter due to injury. Bears quarterback Charlie Brewer drove the Bears from their own 3 to the Texas 17 in the final minute, but Baylor couldn't find the end zone. Pick: Baylor.
No. 9 Penn State at No. 2 Ohio State (+18.5): ESPN GameDay will be in Columbus. Ohio State is excellent and just the second team in the last 100 years to win its first 10 games by at least 24 points, but this line shocks me. If the Buckeyes win, they are in the Big Ten title game regardless of what happens next week at rival Michigan. If Penn State does, it would only need to win the following week at home vs. Rutgers (done deal) to claim the East. OSU gets superstar defensive end Chase Young, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, back from a two-game suspension - Buckeyes haters believe it's a conspiracy that he only missed games against sad-sacks Rutgers and Maryland. These two schools have played fabulous games the past two years that Penn State probably should have won but lost by a point each time. Ohio State was down 26-14 with under seven minutes left last year. Pick: Penn State.
SMU at No. 23 Navy (-3.5): Huge game in the American Athletic Conference's West Division with the winner a possibility to represent the West against Cincinnati in the AAC title game. Navy, which lost at Notre Dame this past Saturday, and SMU, which was on the bye, are tied atop the West at 5-1 along with Memphis. The Tigers own head-to-head wins over the Midshipmen and Mustangs but also have to close at home next week against Cincinnati, so that could be a loss. SMU should win next Saturday at home vs. Tulane, while Navy also should at Houston. These schools are polar opposites as the Mustangs throw the ball all over the field and are among the nation's leaders in every passing category, while the Middies run the ball 98 percent of the time and would prefer to never put the ball in the air. SMU beat Navy 31-30 in OT last year. Coach Sonny Dykes opted to try for 2 and the win in OT, and it was successful. Pick: Navy.
Samford at No. 12 Auburn/Western Carolina at No. 5 Alabama (TBA): No opening lines here and I'm only including these games because it's such a joke that Auburn and Alabama schedule these FCS cupcakes every year ahead of the Iron Bowl. I sincerely hope the Tide are left out of the playoff because they scheduled Western Carolina, Southern Miss and New Mexico State this year. I wonder how much the College Football Playoff committee will take into account the fact that Bama has lost superstar quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a season-ending hip injury. Why Nick Saban had Tua in there when he got hurt against Mississippi State with such a big lead is baffling. The Tide could play their entire second string and still win this game by 50. Auburn lost at home to Georgia on Saturday and really has nothing left to play for other than beating the Tide in the Iron Bowl.
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