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NCAA Fact or Fanatic: Week 11 Picks

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fact-or-fanatic350pixels_use-this-oneThis has been a crazy, ridiculous, fabulous year of football so far. Preseason favorites have crashed and burned in mushroom-shaped clouds of doom, and teams that were unremarkable 12 weeks ago are now rising in the polls.

The sad fact of the matter is that no one really has a handle on any team in the country, with the possible exception of Alabama. We have high-ranked teams with great records – but in sub-par conferences and with negligible out-of-conference wins. We have perennial favorites choking on the dust left behind by their usual victims, and rivalry weirdness that is leading us into a wild and woolly November slate.

So for a column based on dissecting the myths of the college football world, the biggest factor this season seems to be that everything up to this point is a myth. Nothing is as it should be, and a team that shows up one week and beats a superior opponent crumbles and collapses the week after to an unranked foe.

That makes this season the most fun since 2007 for us, and that’s why we warn you now: Expect some major upsets in the next few weeks. You will see the mighty fall. Might as well brace yourself for that fact right now.

On a personal note, we are currently only a scant two weeks away from a pair of significant events. Championship weekend (and bowl selection) occurs two days after we are scheduled for back surgery. So forgive us for focusing on the picks again this week, and let’s get started.

Baylor at #11 Oklahoma

Welcome to Bizarre Bowl Number One. Oklahoma was a preseason top-five team, unranked a month later and now, a month later still, knocking on the front door of the top 10. Baylor, which had been rolling along with its usual firepower, apparently unconcerned about the fact that every college football fan in the country was seething at the success of a disgraced program, has in the last month plummeted from the top 10 to the ranks of the unranked – a fitting fate for a rank program. (Yes, we are feeling punny.) Last week, the Baylor Bears blacked out their stadium “in honor” of fired coach Art Briles and quite fittingly got absolutely rickrolled by TCU 62-22. Take that!

We pause your regularly scheduled picks to unleash a little more karma on Baylor.

Oklahoma 45 Baylor 20

#24 LSU at #25 Arkansas

In one of the few ranked-vs-ranked matchups of the weekend, we get a spectacle between a pair of SEC West teams with crazy seasons so far. LSU was sparked by the departure of legendary coach Les Miles, and righted the ship under interim HC Ed Orgeron, who has managed to ignite the Tigers’ offense despite the continued woes of the quarterback situation. Danny Etling has been a competent game manager for a lethal LSU run game, but is the latest in a string of Purdue transfer QBs to fail on the big stage with last week’s loss to Alabama in a defensive slugfest for the ages.

On the flip side, Razorback QB Austin Allen has been a bright spot for Arkansas this season, managing to do what Etling couldn’t and throwing for 400 yards on that brutal Tide defense. So this could go either way offensively.

Where things get interesting is on defense. While LSU couldn’t score on Alabama, it could and did hold the Tide offense to a measly 10 points. That defense may be one of the nastiest in the country, and LSU-Bama would still be going in its 400th OT and scoreless if it weren’t for a couple of busted plays. That being said, Arkansas shouldn’t score at all, right?

Doesn’t work that way in the SEC. Instead of this being a disciplinary measure on LSU’s, part we see it as more of a shootout with a crazy finish. Whom to pick? Heck if we know, so we’re going to flip a coin – and are leaning toward the Tigers getting one more stop than Bielema’s Hawgs.

LSU 42 Arkansas 41

#20 USC at #4 Washington

2009-0919-usc-uw-stormthefieldIs anyone in the PAC-12 going to stand up to the Huskies on their ostensible playoff run? Definitely. The next few weeks have a couple of tough games for Washington, and while the matchup with Washington State may be the more difficult challenge, the Trojans have the ability to make this weekend interesting.

Let’s be honest here. Except for Washington, the PAC-12 has been a trailer park after a tornado this season, with the Huskies the last viable candidate for Final Four glory. Give Washington credit: it has decimated its conference foes with astonishing ease. But when all is said and done, the season takes a toll physically, and this is a young team in the spotlight on a national level.

The pressure of that #4 ranking has already proved to be Texas A&M’s undoing. How will the Huskies react when the legend-in-their-own-minds USC squad comes to town? The Trojans are coming off five straight wins and jockeying for position for the PAC-12 championship.

These teams are similar statistically, but Washington is posting an average of 16 more points per game than USC. In the end, the real battle will be decided when the Huskies secondary goes up against the Trojans’ offense. We don’t think USC can get it done, but won’t be surprised if we’re wrong either.

Washington 48 USC 21

#3 Michigan at Iowa

Before the season, this was expected to be one of the showcase games of the B1G. Now the Wolverines look to be heading for a chastisement as opposed to a real game, but there are factors that make this weekend interesting. For starters, this is only Michigan’s second trip out of the state of the season, which if you think about it doesn’t seem quite right, does it? It’s week 11, and the Wolverines have only their second true road game. It’s easy to post a 78-0 win over Rutgers on that first real road trip. Doing the same in Iowa? Not so much.

Then again, this Iowa team hasn’t exactly been burning down any barns this season, has it? In its last five games it’s lost three, the last two losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. The Hawkeyes just don’t line up on any level with Michigan.

So what’s the problem for the Wolverines, you ask? Conventional wisdom says this should be a blowout. The ESPN FPI gives Iowa an under 9% chance to beat Michigan. This game should be 56-0. But something about that second-road-trip business is making us leery of going with the blowout this game should be. We are not convinced Michigan goes undefeated this season, because the miasma of arrogance oozing out of Ann Arbor indicates the team is reading their own press. While this may not be the weekend for an upset, it should be a game to keep a weather eye on.

Michigan 35 Iowa 31

1895_auburn_-_georgia_football_game_at_piedmont_park_in_atlanta_georgia#9 Auburn at Georgia

What’s going on in Athens? How is it possible that the Bulldogs’ season has plummeted faster than political integrity? There are a number of excuses one can make: new head coach, freshman quarterback, transition year, blah blah blah. But let’s be for real: Considering the hype of Bulldog nation, who were predicting a playoff run behind the next-best-thing-to-Peyton-Manning savior in Jacob Eason, this has been a disappointing season. Losses to their two biggest division rivals and a total meltdown against perennial basement dweller Vanderbilt have been key factors in the malaise permeating the state of Georgia. The days of blaming Mark Richt for the meltdown in Athens are over. Keep in mind: Georgia fired a 10-win coach last year, and its reward for that is heading into the second weekend in November with a lackluster 5-4 record and a date with the #9 team in the country.

Auburn, on the other hand, is incredibly ranked in the top 10 despite having had absolutely no quarterback play of any merit this entire season. What the Tigers do have is an absolutely stellar defense and the kind of dominating run game that Georgia should have had with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield. Here again, the FPI gives Georgia virtually no chance of winning this game: only 18% when all is said and done. But we aren’t buying into that. Auburn-Georgia is the oldest rivalry in the SEC, and one of those games that you never, ever can rely upon to do the right thing.

And while the UGA line play on both sides of the ball has been positively abysmal, something about this weekend seems – well – destined to change. There was never any question that Kirby Smart, Jacob Eason, and Nick Chubb were going to figure this whole thing out. The only question was when. We don’t care what the stats say, there is a dangerous, wounded animal lying in wait in Sanford stadium. We’re going with the upset which shouldn’t really be an upset. Woe betide War Eagle if this is the weekend the Bulldogs start to click.

Georgia 24 Auburn 21

No, you can’t blame our picks on pain meds or some other medical reason. Last time we checked, caprice wasn’t a viable diagnosis. All we know is this: in a season where nothing makes sense, after a while the only thing that does is chaos. This weekend has all the earmarks of chaos on a universal level throughout the realm of college football. At 32-13 on our picks for the season, we’ve been able to catch some measure of that chaos as well.

We may not go 5-0 this week, but we won’t go 0-5 either.

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About Celina Summers

Celina Summers is a speculative fiction author who mashes all kinds of genres into one giant fantasy amalgamation. Her first fantasy series, The Asphodel Cycle, was honored with multiple awards--including top ten finishes for all four books in the P&E Readers' Poll, multiple review site awards, as well as a prestigious Golden Rose nomination. Celina also writes contemporary literary fantasy under the pseudonym CA Chevault. Celina has worked as an editor for over a decade, including managing editor at two publishing houses. Celina blogs about publishing, sports, and politics regularly. A well-known caller on the Paul Finebaum Show and passionate football fan, when Celina takes times off it's usually on Saturdays in the fall. You can read her personal blog at www.kaantira.blogspot.com and her website is at www.cachevault.org