I’ll be picking games from conferences across the country this season. While Miami is my primary focus as a fan, I love everything college football has to offer. It is my duty to educate you on other conferences outside the ACC. In this article, I will share my experiences from stadiums (with a Canes focus) and give you insight into the SEC and Big Ten. When Missouri WR T.J. Moe was asked about the SEC in 2012 as his team prepared to join the league, his response described the league perfectly. "They’ve also got prettier girls, the air’s fresher and the toilet paper’s thicker." Like the SEC, the tradition and prestige of the Big Ten needs no introduction. I encourage everyone to visit Ann Arbor and Columbus as soon as you can. College football dominates the minds of people in the South and the Midwest. With the season just 24 days away, here are my favorite Win Total Predictions for both the SEC and the Big Ten.
The odds are courtesy of Bovada and only count regular season games. Follow me @JPickens15 for a season long journey of winning picks and predictions.
Best Miami vs Big Ten Experience
Miami 33 Penn State 7 - September 2001
- The raucous students in Happy Valley were prepared with white shirts that cursed Miami. As the greatest team of all time took a 30-0 halftime lead, the excitement of the home crowd quickly disappeared. Dorsey, Shockey, Portis, and Andre Johnson all had big games and made a statement to the rest of the country. Larry Coker's head coaching debut was a resounding success. I was so happy to be a part of it and thought nothing could phase me, but the news that our car was towed during the game certainly tested that resolve.
Worst Big Ten Game I've Attended
Michigan State 44 FAU 0 - September 2011
- I was already in town for the Michigan Notre Dame game, so I was excited to be able to see East Lansing for a noon kickoff. By the third quarter, I had trouble watching the dramatic mismatch on the field. FAU had 10 possessions, resulting in 48 total yards and nine drives of 3 and out. For the first time in years, I endorsed leaving early to watch other games on television.
Best Big Ten Game I've Attended
Michigan 35 Notre Dame 31 - September 2011
- The pain of the early game was well worth it. The first game at the Big House under the lights did not disappoint. I was privileged enough to watch one of the all-time classic games in recent college football history. Three touchdowns were scored in the final 75 seconds, resulting in heart-pounding emotional swings. Denard Robinson forever cemented his place in Michigan lore and led his team to 28 fourth quarter points, including the game winner to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left. The two teenagers in front of us that were forced to leave with their father with 30 seconds remaining, probably still haven't forgiven him. After Miami beats Florida on September 7th, settle in and watch another night matchup between these two teams in Ann Arbor.
Lessons of the Big Ten
- Wearing an Orange Miami Denzel Perryman jersey to a Notre Dame at Purdue game leads to confusion and heated arguments.
- Things I’ve heard said repeatedly inside the Big House – "Bench Henne, Mallett is faster." "Bench Denard, he isn’t clutch." "What down is it?" "Are you guys going to Scorekeepers after the game?"
- Only Ohio State puts some opposing team fans in obstructed view seats with no ability to see the goal line.
- Northwestern is the best value in college football with an affordable, intimate setting. Expect points and never leave a game early. No lead is safe. Go Cats.
Michigan OVER 8.5 Wins
Devin Gardner is a big-time athlete with an NFL arm. He will flourish in his first year as the full time starter at QB. This will be his second year in Al Borges’ offense, which is a much better fit for Gardner than it ever was for Denard Robinson. Look for DE Frank Clark to be a difference maker for Greg Mattison’s defense. The unit has talent all over the field and should be opportunistic and aggressive all year long. The Wolverines are fortunate to play most of the tougher opponents at home in the Big House. Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Nebraska all have to come to Ann Arbor. The Fightin’ Hokes will point their way to 10 victories.
Nebraska UNDER 9.5 Wins
I love the talent of RB Ameer Abdullah and expect him to have a big season, but I still don’t trust Taylor Martinez. Despite the way Bo Pelini continues to rave about his quarterback’s improvement, his turnover issues make it difficult for me to predict a 10 win season for the Huskers. Martinez had eight interceptions in Nebraska’s four losses last season and has been prone to fumbling throughout his career. Nebraska was exposed on defense in big games last season and will start a very young front 7 in 2013. While many of the new starters are better athletes, their inexperience will be a headwind against UCLA in the third game of the season. I expect Brett Hundley to have a big afternoon and get a road win in Lincoln. November will be a tough month for the Huskers, with Northwestern, at Michigan, Michigan State, at Penn State, and finally home against Iowa. Nebraska goes 3-2 over that stretch and finishes 9-3 on the year.
Purdue UNDER 5.5 Wins
I think new HC Darrell Hazell will have success at Purdue down the road, but there aren’t many wins available on the 2013 schedule. A tough out of conference slate that features games against Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Northern Illinois makes a winning season seem out of reach. The Boilers would be lucky to go 1-2 in those three games. 4-8 or 5-7 is the likely result in Hazell’s first year. I expect Rob Henry to win the QB battle thanks to his experience, but he doesn’t have the weapons around him to be successful in the Big Ten. The loss of WR O.J. Ross was significant and Purdue will play far too many young players this season.
Minnesota OVER 5.5 Wins
The Gophers will be heading to a bowl once again. QB Philip Nelson got better as the season progressed and I expect him to show significant improvement in 2013. RB Donnell Kirkwood is a solid player and should dominate inferior opponents early in the season. September is the make or break month for Jerry Kill’s team. Minnesota should easily start 3-0. Then comes back to back home games against San Jose State and Iowa. If the Gophers get to at least 4-1, their confidence should lead to a few upsets during the meat of their Big 10 schedule.
Leans –Northwestern OVER 8.5, Indiana OVER 5.5
Best Miami vs SEC Experience
Miami 41 Florida 16 – September 2002
- For a Canes fan, there is no better feeling than leaving the Swamp with a victory. Even the nastiest of Gators fans didn’t have much to say to us as we left the stadium smiling. Willis McGahee ran for over 200 yards and Ken Dorsey threw four touchdowns. Rex Grossman gave the Bears a preview of his NFL career, going 19-45 with two crucial interceptions. Current bank executive Ron Zook was as confused as always on the sideline. Hopefully September 7th brings a similar result for Miami fans.
Worst SEC Game I've Attended
Georgia 48 Boise State 13 - September 2005
- Jared Zabransky and Ian Johnson became heroes a year later after a dramatic win over Oklahoma, but I saw them get humbled by D.J. Shockley and the Bulldogs. Zabranksy had six turnovers in the first two quarters and Coach Dan Hawkins pulled him at halftime. Moonshine, barbecue, and great Southern hospitality made the tailgating more exciting than the game.
Best SEC Game I've Attended
Auburn 27 Florida 17 - October 2006
- I took my friend to his first major college football stadium (sorry RB but Boston College doesn't count). To this day, we still greet each other by saying "War Eagle." The night game atmosphere at Auburn was electric. The noise level was deafening when the Tigers took the lead on a blocked punt. Auburn is a must visit for hardcore college football fans. Watching the #2 ranked Gators lose made the game truly special. Unfortunately, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow went on to win the national championship later that season.
Lessons of the SEC
- When holding a bachelor party in Knoxville, expect the unexpected.
- When someone leaves their seat to buy bottled water during the first quarter of a UGA game, don't expect them back till the third.
- Everything about seeing a game at Clemson is better than the experience in Columbia.
- Don’t bring up politics in the SEC unless you are mentally prepared for the responses
- Gainesville is HOT in September
- The Grove in Oxford is even better than advertised
- Walk-Ons is the place to be after an LSU win in Baton Rouge
Texas A&M OVER 9.5 Wins
I’m warning everyone now. Do NOT sleep on Johnny Football and Texas A&M this season. I addressed key losses on defense and the offensive line in earlier articles, but this team still has the talent to win 10 or 11 games this year. RB Ben Malena and WR Mike Evans will put up huge numbers and Manziel will remind everyone why he won the Heisman last season. I wrote about how the press is hoping Manziel fails so they can lecture us on doing the right things off the field. I still trust Johnny Football and will continue to pick him until proven otherwise. If A&M is able to beat Alabama for a second straight season, the legend will continue to grow. The schedule sets up well, with eight home games in College Station, including the hyped matchup with the Crimson Tide. Texas A&M is fortunate to avoid the three best teams in the SEC East – Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
- Obviously my prediction for A&M is based on Manziel being eligible for this season. My view on the ESPN allegations mirrors Denzel’s in Remember the Titans. "Let the boys play ref, let em play."
South Carolina OVER 9.5 Wins
This is Steve Spurrier’s best chance for an SEC title at South Carolina. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson are proven winners at QB and we all know about the talent of Clowney on the defensive line. The schedule sets up well for the Gamecocks and I expect them to be 8-1 heading into their bye week in November. If USC is able to beat Georgia in Athens early in the season, the talk of national title aspirations will begin in Columbia. South Carolina plays Florida and Clemson in the final three weeks, but both games are at home. Even with a split in those tough matchups, South Carolina still finishes with 10 wins. Spurrier’s SEC experience will help his team avoid early upsets and South Carolina has a great shot at making it to Atlanta.
Tennessee UNDER 6 Wins
The Vols have a brutal schedule in Year 1 under new HC Butch Jones. Games against Oregon, UF, UGA, Bama, and South Carolina are all likely losses. In order to reach seven wins, Tennessee would need to win their final four games - against Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. I don’t see that happening, especially with the team lacking confidence after a 3-5 start to the season. I expect Justin Worley to start at QB, but regardless of who wins the competition, that player will lack significant experience in the SEC. Butch Jones will have success in Knoxville in the future and is recruiting very well so far. This season is his chance to play as many young players as possible, without facing the immediate pressure to win in his first season. Tennessee finishes 5-7 but will easily make a bowl in 2014.
Ole Miss UNDER 8 Wins
Ole Miss has been a very popular sleeper team this offseason, with 17 starters returning. QB Bo Wallace has progressed and will play well this season. The Rebels have one of the strangest schedules I’ve ever seen for a BCS conference team. The opener at Vanderbilt will be a very tough game and the crowd in Nashville will be ready on Thursday night. Four of the Rebels’ first five games are on the road, with likely losses at Alabama and at Texas. Ole Miss then returns to Oxford for six straight home games, but get the immediate reward of facing Johnny Manziel and LSU back to back. Ole Miss will be 4-3 at best, (but more likely 3-4) heading into the home stretch of the season with five remaining games that are all winnable. The final game is the Egg Bowl and it’s in Starkville. While I have a lot of confidence in their talented recruiting class of 2013 eventually paying dividends down the road, I don’t think the experienced players on this roster have the talent to go 9-3 in the SEC West.
Leans – LSU UNDER 9, Florida UNDER 9
What is the best game you’ve ever seen in person? What is the worst? Who wins the SEC and who wins the Big Ten? Let me know what you think.