Before the sun rises on Saturday morning, I will be making one of the worst drives in America. The scenic route from Ft. Lauderdale to Tallahassee won’t make it into any travel magazines, but a night game experience for UM FSU at Doak Campbell Stadium is well worth the trip. Florida State fans have been complaining this week about the lack of tailgating time in the parking lots allowed by the university on Saturday. I couldn’t agree more. The ability to tailgate for endless hours is one of the many things that separate the SEC from the rest of college football. That being said, I will be too focused on other games to worry about early parking. I’ve invited Rick Scott via email to join me at AJ’s to watch thrillers like Virginia Tech at Boston College or UNC at NCST. Hopefully the governor can take the time to meet with a concerned constituent while enjoying some ACC football.
Since I posted my article picking Miami +22, I have been trying to decide what my Golden Pick would be for this weekend. For those of you that haven’t been following my journey this season, my highest conviction game each week is referred to as the "GOLDEN PICK," aptly named after Miami’s impressive Head Coach. The more I’ve read and thought about UM FSU on Saturday night, the more confident I have become that Miami will play well. The Canes will play conservatively on defense and keep everything in front of them. Miami will rely on an experienced offensive line and the talents of Duke Johnson to slow the game down. One big special teams play or one early FSU turnover could make things very interesting. Stephen Morris will play his best game of the season and the ankle won't be an issue.
So far in 2013, my best conference by far has been the ACC. I’ve gone 19-7 in the conference I follow most closely. My record on Saturday nights has been solid, going 26-17-1 under the lights. My Golden Picks are an impressive 6-3 on the season, despite UCLA’s collapse last week against Oregon. Everything is pointing me towards picking the Canes. I’ve been preaching to Miami fans all season: "Remain confident and believe in this team." Here we go.
MIAMI +22 at Florida State 8pm – ABC
My pick for the game has generated intense reactions from both fan bases. Florida State fans are beyond confident about Saturday night. Not only does every FSU fan seem to be convinced their team will win easily, many think it’s a lock that the Noles will win by 30 or more. Miami fans certainly shouldn’t be offended by this perceived lack of respect. The reality is that Vegas and members of the media are expressing similar viewpoints. We should embrace it. Miami has a tremendous opportunity and will play with nothing to lose. Florida State fans seem to think the 2013 Noles are some combination of the 1992 USA Dream Team, the 1996 Chicago Bulls, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and the 1980 Soviet Union Hockey Team. Hopefully Canes fans get to hear Brent Musberger do his best Al Michaels impersonation around midnight on Saturday.
Go Canes. Full Speed Ahead. This Year is Different.
I had to make sure I published this article in time to make a pick for Wednesday night’s marquee sporting event. Most of you probably assume I’m talking about the World Series. PLEASE. Good luck to the fans of the Red Sox and Cardinals, but it’s still baseball. I certainly am not picking an NBA game tonight. The only thing more irrelevant than the first two months of the NBA season is preseason NFL football. The NBA’s eight month season can wait. Thanks to ESPN2, I will be focused on college football as the Cincinnati Bearcats visit the 1-5 Memphis Tigers. "Spend Your Wednesday With the AAC."
Last Saturday was certainly a struggle at first, as I lost all three Big Ten picks early in the day. Thankfully I was rescued back to respectability in the night games by Connor Shaw’s heroics and Stanford’s tough defense. I have confidence in my picks this weekend and expect results. Cincinnati and Oregon State will allow me to arrive in Tallahassee on Saturday morning, already sporting a 2-0 record. Follow me @JPickens15 for picks and stadium thoughts from across the country every Saturday.
CINCINNATI -2.5 at Memphis 8pm – ESPN2 – WEDNESDAY
This certainly seems like a trap, but I don’t scare easily. Memphis is better than their 1-5 record, losing numerous close games. The issue with the Tigers is an offense that is scoring just 20 points a game so far this season. Cincinnati’s defense has been strong all year, allowing just 17 points a game. After some difficult adversity early in the season, the Bearcats have settled down and won two straight games in convincing fashion. QB Brendon Kay is playing with confidence and has 6 TD with 0 INT in his last two outings. Look for the Bearcats’ offense to be the difference as Kay has a big night. Cincy wins by 10 or more.
Southern Cal at OREGON STATE -5 9pm – ESPN2 – FRIDAY
The crowd at Reser Stadium in Corvalis will make a difference on Friday night. The Trojans have lost both real road tests this season. Injuries have decimated the already thin roster of USC and Oregon State is good enough to take advantage. USC still hasn’t found explosiveness on offense and won’t be able to keep pace with Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks. Oregon State will bounce back from a tough loss to Stanford and play a more complete game on both sides of the ball. USC star WR Marqise Lee is still questionable for the game and even if he plays, won’t be close to 100 percent. The Beavers roll on Friday night and Mike Riley outcoaches the hilarious Ed Orgeron.
VIRGINIA TECH -4.5 at Boston College 12pm – ABC/ESPN2
I trust the powers of George Whitfield to briefly restore some of Logan Thomas’s confidence. Virginia Tech managed to lose to Duke, despite forcing four turnovers and not allowing a single 3rd down conversion. Thomas must play better on Saturday and I expect him to be effective in the running game. Boston College struggled last week against North Carolina, losing 34-10. RB Andre Williams continued his impressive season and had a big afternoon, but QB Chase Rettig was a complete non-factor. BC isn’t able to protect Rettig in passing situations and now relies far too heavily on the running game, attempting just 21.4 passes a game in 2013. Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in the country and Bud Foster’s group should wreak havoc all afternoon. Frank Beamer will have his team motivated, knowing the Hokies still control their own destiny in the Coastal Division. VT wins by a touchdown or more.
NORTH CAROLINA -3.5 at North Carolina State 1230pm – ESPN3
Both teams are fighting for an opportunity to stay alive for a potential bowl game. NCST has lost three games in a row and has no confidence or momentum. The Wolfpack have thrown for just four touchdowns all season and haven’t scored more than 17 points in any ACC game. While UNC is 2-5, that record is a bit misleading. The Tar Heels are far better than the other bottom dwellers of the conference, especially with QB Bryn Renner back at full strength. Renner has shown signs of being an NFL caliber QB in his past two outings and will find star TE Eric Ebron early and often. The use of backup QB Marquise Williams mainly in the running game, will keep NCST off balance. Look for the Tar Heels to pull away in the second half.
Florida vs GEORGIA -2.5 330pm – CBS
This is not the game that CBS executives assumed they would be getting a few months ago. Both teams are 4-3, but still alive in the SEC East race. Florida’s offense continues to get worse and now QB Tyler Murphy is nursing an injury. Florida’s defense is obviously very talented, but hasn’t put it together in recent weeks due to injuries and possibly a lack of focus. Georgia will likely get back stud RB Todd Gurley and WR Michael Bennett on Saturday, which will have a huge impact on the Dawgs offense. In a rivalry like this, experience and poise are always critical factors. UGA QB Aaron Murray has played in dozens of big games in his career and his leadership and talent will be the difference. Florida falls to 4-4 as the downward spiral continues.
MINNESOTA +9.5 at Indiana 330pm – BTN
Minnesota has been one of the best stories in college football this season. Playing without their HC Jerry Kill, the Gophers have beaten Northwestern and Nebraska in back to back weeks to move to 6-2. Minnesota has confidence and plays with a toughness Indiana cannot match. The Hoosiers have an explosive offense, but struggle mightily on defense. Minnesota hardly ever throws the ball, relying on a power running game to dictate the tempo of the game. Indiana is 113th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 221 yards a game on the ground. Indiana will put up some points on Saturday, but won’t be able to stop Minnesota from controlling the time of possession. The Gophers hang around all afternoon and this game is decided by one score or less in the fourth quarter.
MICHIGAN +6 at Michigan State 330pm – ABC
This is a huge rivalry matchup with significant implications in the Legends Division race. Earlier in the week with the line at 3 or 3.5, I wasn’t inclined to take the game. Now that Michigan is a 6-point underdog, I must step in and pick the Wolverines. Michigan State’s defense is phenomenal and allows just 12 points a game. Michigan’s offense comes into the game well rested and confident following a record setting performance against Indiana two weeks ago. I don’t trust MSU’s QB Connor Cook in a big game and expect him to struggle on Saturday. Michigan will play well and stay within striking distance throughout. I expect this one to be a thriller decided on the final possession. Go Blue. Can’t Read, Can’t Write.
Oklahoma State at TEXAS TECH -2.5 7pm – FOX
OKST hasn’t been the same team away from Stillwater and lost a bad game to West Virginia in September. QB play has been an issue for the Cowboys and Clint Chelf hasn’t been able to find his rhythm. Texas Tech lost a competitive game to Oklahoma last week in the final minutes. The Red Raiders need to protect the ball better, but have an explosive offense led by QB David Webb and TE Jace Amaro. Texas Tech was embarrassed the last two times these teams have met and Coach Kliff Kingsbury has effectively used that as motivation. Tech’s defense is a lot better than people think. Expect the Red Raiders to defend their home field and stay alive in the Big 12 title race with a win.
Tennessee at MISSOURI -10.5 7pm – ESPN
Freshman QB Joshua Dobbs will be making his first career start for Tennessee on the road in Columbia. Good luck. He will be facing an angry Missouri defense that is desperate to make up for the collapse last Saturday against South Carolina. Missouri has 15 interceptions on the year and DE Michael Sam has been unstoppable. The Vols have faced three ranked teams on the road in 2013 and weren’t competitive in any of those contests. Missouri still controls their own destiny in the SEC East and that will serve as motivation for the Tigers. QB James Franklin is questionable and could make an appearance. His leadership would provide an instant spark to an already potent offense. Dobbs might end up being a great player in Knoxville for years to come, but his debut won’t go well.
Pittsburgh at GEORGIA TECH -10 7pm – ESPNU
Pittsburgh faced Navy’s option attack last week, but couldn’t hold a lead in the 4th quarter. The Panthers haven’t had much success running the ball this season and most of the pressure is on QB Tom Savage to make plays. Georgia Tech has momentum coming into Saturday following two straight convincing wins. The Yellow Jackets ran for almost 400 yards against both Syracuse and Virginia. Georgia Tech’s defense has been stout this season, allowing less than 20 points a game. GT is a different team at home and I don’t expect Pitt’s familiarity with the option to make much of a difference. Georgia Tech has much better athletes than Navy and executes their offense more effectively. Look for the Yellow Jackets to win easily and gain bowl eligibility.