Welcome to NCAA Fact or Fanatic, where myths are busted and our pick record usually is too. Just kidding; our predictions haven’t been half bad. That being said, we thought we’d start off this week with something different. It all started with an email we recently received.
Dear Fact or Fanatic:
Why do you focus so much on the SEC? There are great games in all the other conferences and you ignore them to pick SEC games that don’t matter. You basically ignore the Big Ten. Guess your [sic] SEC biased like all the rest of the sports media.
Thanks for nothing.
Ohio State Fan
Gentle reader, welcome to the wonderful world of getting your myth busted.
Fact or Fanatic is SEC-Biased When it Comes to Picking Games
Come on now, people. Do we really have to break this down for you?
Every week, we pick five games. Those five games are chosen because they’re either a) ranked-on-ranked matchups; b) potential upsets of a ranked team; or c) historically interesting.
The fact of the matter is that those ranked-on-ranked games are coming from the SEC. This week’s matchup of games includes three ranked-on-ranked matchups: Arkansas at Auburn, Ole Miss at LSU, and Texas A&M at Alabama. Last week featured two SEC games, and both were ranked-on-ranked: Arkansas-Ole Miss and Alabama-Tennessee. The week before that we featured two ranked SEC matchups, Tennessee-Texas A&M and Arkansas-Alabama.
So our SEC bias against the Big Ten will end when that conference has multiple ranked-on-ranked matchups every weekend. Last week we picked Ohio State-Wisconsin because both teams were ranked, and threw in the Nebraska-Indiana game for the fun of it. Two weeks ago, we picked the Wisconsin-Michigan game. So, if you want to have two or three Big Ten picks every week…
Play better schedules.
There. Problem solved. Oh, and gentle reader? You, sir, are a fanatic.
Officiating This Year is BAD
We’ll just tell you straight up this is a fact. Again. Until the NCAA decides to step in and make officiating fair for all teams, this will continue to be a running commentary in this column and others. Fan message boards are inundated with complaints about officiating, and while this isn’t new it’s definitely far more prevalent this year than in past seasons. And backing up those complaints are smart fans and football pundits with videos.
We will say it again: there seems to be a noticeable and painfully obvious decline in the quality of officiating this season. When players are tackled out of bounds and it’s not called, or a quarterback is hit helmet-to-helmet by a linebacker and the penalty is not called, that’s not only unacceptable but it can and will lead to player injuries. This isn’t your normal “refs suck” mid-season complaint. This is a serious and growing problem that, if not corrected, may affect the outcome of not just the season but players’ careers.
Get it fixed, NCAA. Now.
Trash Act of the Week
Teams with live mascots are very attached to those mascots, and when a mascot passes away it’s sad. Such was the case at LSU a couple of weeks ago when the best-housed tiger in the world, MikeVI, died from cancer.
So when Florida players decided to troll LSU by playing with a cat skeleton draped in Mardi Gras beads, that was a pretty classless act. UF did release the following statement afterwards:
The Halloween cat seen on the field after last nights [sic] game was thrown onto the field by a fan. It has no significance within our program.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 16, 2016
Even if the specious claim that a fan had “thrown the cat on the field” is to be believed, it doesn’t excuse the players’ behavior. Also, it’s difficult to imagine that someone was able to smuggle a cat skeleton into a stadium to begin with – and if someone was, then Florida has bigger problems with security than any other institution in the country.
Regardless, though, it seems as if the Gators haven’t learned yet what happens to trash talkers in college football, and without any seeming direction or discipline from head coach Jim McElwain the players will continue to dig themselves holes they can’t climb out of.
Basically, this picture is Florida spotting LSU a couple of touchdowns. So when the game is played in Baton Rouge on November 19, the Gators will already be down 14-0 when the clock reads 15:00 at the opening kickoff.
Also, the LSU fans do not forgive or forget. November 19 will be an ugly day in Baton Rouge, and the Gators brought it on themselves.
Class Act of the Week
We are not in the habit of giving props to ESPN’s College Gameday, having had a couple of serious beefs with them this year already. But they spotlighted a story last week about Penn State kicker Joey Julius that hit home hard. As fans of football, we are accustomed to seeing athletes in absolutely ridiculous physical shape. Redshirt sophomore Julius, who clocks in at a solid 5′ 10″, 258 pounds, recently spoke publicly about his eating disorders, and bingeing and purging his way through his athletic career.
As a society, we don’t think of men suffering from eating disorders like binge eating or bulimia, and we certainly don’t think of a Division 1 football player dealing with that type of disorder. Julius’s story opens the door for a frank and public conversation about college athletes’ mental health in coordination with their physical health. Hats off to Penn State for recognizing Julius’s struggles and working to help him learn how to heal himself, and supporting him throughout the entire process. And a serious tip of the hat to Joey Julius for being courageous enough to take his story public.
In case you were wondering, he’s one heck of a player too.
On to the Picks!
Sorry, gentle reader with the complaints. There are three SEC games with ranked-on-ranked opponents this week. We are throwing in a B1G prediction just to make you feel better. Maybe we should consider ONLY picking B1G games the next few weeks to bring our prediction percentage back up after a horrible 4-1 week (note the irony). We’re standing at 24-11 heading into week eight.
We’ll take it, just like Alabama took it to half of Tennessee’s starters last week. No, we’re not bitter that Bama beat the second string, complete with burned red shirts and walk-ons.
Not at all.
So let’s take a look at this week’s games.
#10 Wisconsin at Iowa
Last week, the Badgers almost pulled off an upset against Ohio State in overtime, and have continued to be a pleasant surprise in the B1G West division. Iowa, on the other hand, had its season derailed with early losses to North Dakota State (we called it) and Northwestern.
So why is this game important? In the B1G, the two major powers are in the East. The annual Michigan-Ohio State matchup in “The Game” will be a de facto play-in to the Final Four. Whoever seizes control in the West is going to have the opportunity to play spoiler in the B1G championship game.
All that being said, this game has huge national implications. In the end, it will come down to two things: defense, and quarterback play. Wisconsin’s QB Alex Hornibrook has been erratic this season, and is learning on the job, whereas Iowa’s CJ Beathard has a beastly 154.7% QB rating at home. Both defenses are stout, but Wisconsin’s ability to stymie Ohio State’s Heisman candidate QB JT Barrett was impressive last week.
If Wisconsin can contain Beathard and give Hornibrook enough protection in the pocket to run the offense effectively, Wisconsin can get the inside track to a rematch with the winner of Ohio State-Michigan in the championship game. It’s a big if, but we’ll take it in a barnburner. Wisconsin 28 Iowa 21
TCU at #12 West Virginia
The Mountaineers are the surprise power team in the Big XII this year, while TCU has discovered painfully why having a defense is a really good idea. Other teams have figured out how to compete with the Horned Frogs’ high-powered offense, and that’s to outgain them. With WVU coming off racking up 659 yards against Texas Tech, the formula is being followed in Morgantown.
But the real difference can be found on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The Mountaineers’ defense is stingy, big, and mean – and effective. In fact, they’re allowing only 19.4 points per game on average, as compared to TCU’s 32.8. That’s a huge differential for a team that relies on outscoring its opponents.
This game is at home for the Mountaineers, they’re undefeated, they’re flying high, and they’re the best option the Big XII has for “one true champion.” WVU 45 TCU 42
#23 Ole Miss at #25 LSU
We don’t know if interim coach Ed Orgeron is the savior of Tiger football, but he certainly has done one thing Les Miles was unable to do. He found an offense. LSU brutalized Southern Mississippi last week, with a balanced offensive performance: 276 yards passing for QB Danny Etling and 183 yards rushing. All of that was without Leonard Fournette.
Ole Miss has had an erratic season, letting FSU and Alabama both come back for wins after double-digit Rebels advantages and losing a heartbreaker to perennial spoiler Arkansas last week, 34-30. To make this storyline even more fun, Orgeron was once the head coach at Ole Miss.
This game has stories everywhere, but the narrative for these teams is different. The Rebels are out of the SEC race, with two losses in the west. LSU, on the other hand, has only one conference loss and that was to Auburn on a bizarre and controversial turn of events at the end of the game. It’s hard to deny that Ole Miss is the best 3-3 team in the country, but it’s also hard to deny that LSU is a team trending up. This is an interesting and tricky game, not only for the teams and coaches but for us. But we have to give the nod to LSU for one specific tangible.
Leonard Fournette is back. LSU 42 Ole Miss 27
#17 Arkansas at #21 Auburn
This game is a huge question mark. Each team has two losses, but Auburn is still alive in the SEC west with one conference loss, while Arkansas has two. And both teams have had strange games: Arkansas racked up crazy yards against both Alabama and A&M and lost; and Auburn has demonstrated a surprisingly amazing defense and a schizophrenic offense. If Auburn didn’t have a strong kicking game, it’s difficult to say if they’d be able to score.
Now the Razorbacks and Tigers are meeting in a game that will chart their respective futures in the second half of the season. If coach Gus Malzahn can’t solve his offensive woes, this game could get ugly fast. Arkansas’s QB Austin Allen is having an impressive season, scoring consistently on teams with greater talent. Auburn’s defense is good, but is it good enough to stall the Razorbacks long enough to get into the end zone? Nope. Arkansas 35 Auburn 16
#6 Texas A&M at #1 Alabama
Let us be frank. This is a playoff to determine who goes to Atlanta, and therefore a playoff to get into the Final Four. Both teams are undefeated. Both teams are in the middle of brutal stretches of games.
Both teams have defeated cross-division rival Tennessee. It took the Aggies double OT after letting the Vols come back in the second half. Alabama dominated Tennessee’s decimated offensive line and secondary, and curb-stomped them all over Neyland Stadium last week. What’s interesting is that the winner of this game will most likely see Tennessee in Atlanta in December, for all the marbles and when everything’s different.
Tide QB Jalen Hurts looked like the real deal last week, and common wisdom would dictate that Alabama with its annual stack of five-star recruits and coach Nick Saban are cruising toward the championship like a Porsche in fifth gear. But the last time Alabama lost at home as the #1 ranked team in the country was also a Texas A&M game, and Bama has a recent history of losing that one SEC game they shouldn’t mid-season. With the Aggies coming off a bye week, this might be the setup for a similar scenario.
Not this week. Alabama 35 Texas A&M 21
We’re hoping for a fun weekend of great college football – hopefully without serious injuries. And while we’d like to think that CFB officials would get their act together and finally learn how to call a game with equality for all teams and players, we somehow don’t think that’s likely to happen. All that being said, we’re looking forward to the end of the season. At least for a couple of weeks, the B1G will have ranked-on-ranked games and we can overcome that SEC-bias accusation.
Unfortunately, that brief break from mediocrity is fleeting for the B1G, so we’ll just have to deal with further complaints in the mailbag.