The first day of 2014 lived up to the hype. Congrats to UCF for playing a complete game against Baylor and earning significant national credibility. My record on the day finished at 3-2-1, but I was left bitter about what could have been. After Jeremy Hill’s touchdown game LSU a 21-7 lead in the final minutes, I attempted the oldest trick in the book: the reverse jinx. I told everyone around me: “Watch Iowa return this kick back for a touchdown now just to mess with my emotions.” I was almost right. Iowa brought the kickoff all the way to the LSU five yard line and scored a devastating touchdown two plays later. LSU should have been awarded a safety on the final play when Iowa was called for a penalty in their own end zone, but the officials quickly ended the game. The tie certainly felt more like a loss. In the Rose Bowl, Stanford HC David Shaw coached one of the worst games I have ever seen in college football. His stubbornness and absolute refusal to call passing plays in the 2nd half, cost his team the game.
Miami fans now have to deal with Al Golden’s name being linked to the Penn State job. Just my opinion here, but I would be shocked if Al left after finally getting through the NCAA issues in Coral Gables. Why would he want to deal with more sanctions and head to a school where it is harder to recruit? I think Golden truly believes he can turn Miami around in the next year or two and is excited to bring in a Top 5 recruiting class next month. We’ll see how this plays out in the next few weeks.
With six bowl games remaining, my chances at finishing with a winning record are slipping away. I’m 13-15-1 so far this bowl season and need to win five to finish above 500. As many of you know, the theme of my season has been “precise mediocrity,” so expect me to go 4-2 and finish at 17-17-1. I feel comfortable picking Nick Saban, but I’m a bit nervous about trusting Dabo Swinney in the Orange Bowl again.
ALABAMA -17 vs Oklahoma 830pm – TODAY – ESPN
In the matchup of Nick Saban against "Big Game Bob," I have to trust the former Dolphins head coach. Alabama has more talent and is significantly better on both sides of the ball. AJ McCarron is looking to end his impressive Alabama career on a high note. RB T.J. Yeldon should have a nice night on the ground and create opportunites for McCarron in the play-action passing game. Oklahoma's offense struggles to score and QB's Blake Bell and Trevor Knight aren't accurate enough to beat a Nick Saban's defense. Expect the Alabama secondary to come up with a few turnovers given Bell's tendency to overthrow receivers. If the Crimson Tide show up motivated and ready to play, I think we'll see a blowout tonight. Alabama is eager to prove that the Iron Bowl was a fluke and wants to finish the year ranked 2nd.
MISSOURI +1.5 vs Oklahoma State 730pm – FRIDAY – FOX
These teams are old rivals from the Big 12 so expect some fireworks. For the time in years, I think Missouri has more explosive playmakers. OKST's offense regressed against Oklahoma and QB Clint Chelf hasn't played consistent football. Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham will use his size advantage and be a factor in the red zone. RB Henry Josey and QB James Franklin are veteran leaders for the Tigers. DE Michael Sam will make plays in the OKST backfield and his unit will bounce back from an embarrassing performance against Auburn. Missouri wins by a touchdown and caps an improbable year by finishing ranked in the Top 5.
CLEMSON +3 vs Ohio State 830pm – FRIDAY – ESPN
Ohio State's players claim they are focused for this Orange Bowl and not thinking about the devastating loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis. I don't buy it. Ohio State's defense has been an issue all season and now DE Noah Spence has been suspended for three games. Clemson's offense should have a huge night, led by QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins. Boyd will be making his final start for Clemson and has a chance to end his career on a high note. Watkins will likely declare for the NFL after the game and can take advantage of an Ohio State secondary that hasn't faced elite speed much this season. Ohio State's offense will put up points led by the running game of Braxton Miller and RB Carlos Hyde, but I don't think it will be enough. Clemson has the talent to beat the Buckeyes and the Tigers are motivated to conquer the demons of their last visit to the Orange Bowl, a 70-33 loss to West Virginia two years ago. Clemson wins an exciting shootout on the final drive of the game. Tajh Boyd will be the best player on the field.
SOTU STAFF PICKS
Jerry Steinberg (15 – 13 - 1 record) – Alabama, Missouri, Clemson
Josh Maser (13 – 15 - 1 record) – Oklahoma, Missouri, Clemson
Michael Grunewald (12 – 16 - 1 record) – Oklahoma, Missouri, Clemson