LAST WEEK: 5-1
Another 5-1 week! Things are looking up for my picks lately. Can I possibly keep this mojo rolling for a third straight week? Probably not, but I’m going to try anyway.
#24 NORTHWESTERN (7-2, 3-2) AT MICHIGAN (6-3, 4-1)
12pm ET, ESPN
LINE: MICHIGAN -9.5
Northwestern has been one of the few pleasant surprises in the Big Ten this year and as the season winds down, they can still entertain slim division title hopes (although they need some help in the form of some Nebraska losses). Even if a division title is likely out of reach, though, they could still put together a 10-11 win season… which wouldn’t be such a bad consolation prize. They’ve had an extra week to prepare for this game, while Michigan had to battle without an injured Denard Robinson last week. After a few abysmal drives, former backup QB Devin Gardner got into a groove and led Michigan to a big win over Minnesota. That said… this isn’t an almost-10 point line if Gardner is the starter. While Northwestern has been solid in the Big Ten this year, their three wins have come against Iowa, Indiana, and Minnesota — not exactly murderer’s row. I think the Michigan defense gives them fits in Ann Arbor, while Denard returns to spark the Michigan offense.
THE PICK: MICHIGAN 28, NORTHWESTERN 17
WISCONSIN (6-3, 3-2) AT INDIANA (4-5, 2-3)
12pm ET, ESPN2
LINE: WISCONSIN -7.0
And here we have a game that’s essentially a title-decider for the Big Ten Leaders division title — just like we all figured before the season, right? Wisconsin has struggled more than expected this year, while Indiana has taken advantage of the weakness of the Big Ten’s other I-named teams to claw into the title picture. (Remember, of course, that Ohio State and Penn State, the two actual best teams in this division are barred from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.) Wisconsin closes out their season with Ohio State and Penn State, so if they lose here a 3-5 record in league play is on the table. Indiana, meanwhile, has a game remaining with Purdue (and Penn State), meaning that 4-4 is very much in play for them if they can get by Wisconsin… which would punch their ticket to Indianapolis (unless Wisconsin knocked off Ohio State AND Penn State). Still, that’s all window dressing — what about this game? Indiana’s riding a two-game winning streak… even though their offense has been held to fewer points than they scored in all three of their losses. Wacky. Wisconsin, meanwhile, had a bye week to figure out how to run their offense in the absence of QB Joel Stave, the freshman QB who had made things click. If the Wisconsin offense sputters the way it did before Bret Bielema turned the keys over to Stave and if Indiana is able to make a few big plays, this could be an interesting game. But I think Indiana comes back to Earth a bit this week and Wisconsin finds enough offense to grind out a win.
THE PICK: WISCONSIN 31, INDIANA 24
#11 OREGON STATE (7-1, 5-1) AT #14 STANFORD (7-2, 5-1)
3pm ET, FOX
LINE: STANFORD -4.0
AKA, the game to determine who gets to be the maid of honor for Oregon this season. Technically, both teams do still control their own destinies in the Pac 12 North title race… there’s just the little matter of those impending games with Oregon. On the other hand, if Oregon does win and out and play in the national title game, the winner of this game could be in pole position to replace Oregon in the Rose Bowl, which wouldn’t be a terrible consolation prize. (Oregon State hasn’t played in the Rose Bowl since 1965; Stanford hasn’t been there since 2000.) This is a tough game to peg, but ultimately the ferocity of the Stanford defense — and their homefield advantage here — gives them the edge. Don’t expect a shootout here, though — this should be a pretty low-scoring, gritty, defensive game.
THE PICK: STANFORD 21, OREGON STATE 14
#15 TEXAS A&M (7-2, 4-2) AT #1 ALABAMA (9-0, 6-0)
3:30pm ET, CBS
LINE: ALABAMA -13.5
Johnny Manziel has taken the SEC by storm, but it’s one thing to put up the gaudy, video game numbers he’s racked up on the likes of Auburn or Arkansas… it’s a whole ‘nother matter to do that against an elite defense. His production suffered against the stifling defenses of Florida and LSU — and those games were in College Station, too. This game is in Tuscaloosa and it’s against a defense that’s made a living out of swallowing up offenses whole — and a defense that’s probably still smarting a little about the way LSU sliced them up (to an extent; they still only gave up 14 points) in the second half last week. A&M’s best hope might be that Bama has the dreaded let-down game after their emotional comeback win against LSU this week. It won’t matter; Saban is too good at keeping his team focused and ready and his defense is too good to let “Johnny Football” run wild on them. A&M has been a great success story this year — but a win at Alabama is a step too far for them at this point.
THE PICK: ALABAMA 31, TEXAS A&M 14
#21 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-2, 3-2) AT #7 LSU (7-2, 3-2)
7pm ET, ESPN
LINE: LSU -14.5
Ah, The Rebound Game. Mississippi State is reeling after two straight blowout losses poked a hole in their 7-0 campaign; LSU is staggering after Alabama’s stunning come-from-behind win in the final minute last week. Both teams could easily be a little hungover… but Tiger Stadium at night is not a good place for a visiting team to be if they’re not sharp. Look for the LSU defense to put the clamps on Mississippi State. The LSU offense may take a little while to get going, but they’ll do enough to pull away.
THE PICK: LSU 28, MISSISSIPPI STATE 10
#2 KANSAS STATE (9-0, 6-0) AT TCU (6-3, 3-3)
7pm ET, FOX
This line was off the books for several days this week, owing to the uncertainty surrounding the status of Kansas State’s all-everything Heisman contender QB, Collin Klein, who suffered a concussion during last week’s win over Oklahoma State. If he’s able to go, K-State is a solid favorite in this game. If he’s not… hello, upset alert. TCU has struggled at times in their first year in the Big XII, mainly due to suspensions that have robbed the teams of several of its best players. But they’re still a talented bunch and could easily hang with a Klein-less K-State. I think Klein plays, but isn’t 100%, which keeps the game closer than expected… which is what Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs need to spring an upset.
THE PICK: TCU 24, KANSAS STATE 21