Week 4 picks

The Augusta Chronicle

A second straight 4-3 week moves me to 10-11 on the year with my college football picks. Like I said last weekend’s slate of games didn’t look that appealing on paper, but it was a heck of a football weekend.

This weekend’s schedule should leave us more satisfied than the double-brisket cheeseburger with slab bacon and a fired egg I had on Sunday at Big Tex in Decatur.

No. 5 Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 20 Kansas State (2-0, 1-0 Big 12)- Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: Auburn is the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to come into the Little Apple since second-ranked Penn State defeated Kansas State 17-14 in 1969.

Getty Images

Through two games the big cats are averaging 43.5 (KSU) and 52 points (AU) per game. Kansas State has done it with a balanced attack as quarterback Jake Waters has thrown for 462 yards and two scores, while running for 193 yards and four TDs.

Auburn’s bread and butter is its rushing attack. The Tigers average 330 yards per game on the ground (sixth best in the NCAA) and 6.7 yards per attempt. Senior Cameron Artis-Payne leads the way with 289 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Marshall has been lethal at quarterback with 122 yards rushing, including a 50-yard TD run against San Jose State, and 151 yards passing.

The passing game will get a boost as Sammie Coates is predicted to return against KSU.

Both teams are giving up over 300 yards of total offense per game, but both have five sacks through two games. Elijah Lee has 2.5 for KSU, and Montravious Adams has a sack to go with four tackles for loss for Auburn. The Tigers will be without suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead, who leads the team with two interceptions.

Prediction: Auburn is a 7.5-point favorite on the road in this one. I think Kansas State is a solid team, and you can never count Bill Snyder out of it, but Auburn is just too good on offense. The Tigers win 42-31.

Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0, 1-0 ACC)- Noon ET on ESPNU: Wake up and get ready for some physical football in this one. Iowa is coming off a 20-17 loss to Iowa State, while the Panthers have been able to run away from everyone on their schedule thus far.

Pitt is averaging 344.3 yards per game (fourth best in the country) on the ground, with an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 65.7 yards per game on the ground.

Every game has been a grind for Iowa, including its opener against Northern Iowa. Despite Jake Ruddock playing well at quarterback, the Hawkeyes are averaging just 21.7 points per game this year.

Prediction: The Panthers are favored by a touchdown at home. I think that’s about right and I’m going with a 24-13 win for Pitt over Iowa.

Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 3 Alabama- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Florida escaped Kentucky in triple overtime last weekend to remain unbeaten heading into Saturday.

Alabama’s offense has cruised, scoring at least 33 points in every game this season, including 52 last week against Southern Miss. Blake Sims continues to be the team’s starter, with 646 yards passing and four TDs, but Jacob Coker has shown flashes during his playing time with 248 yards passing and a TD.

It doesn’t matter who throws it though, because Amari Cooper will catch it. The Miami native has 33 catches for 454 yards and two TDs this year.

He’ll face his toughest match-up of the year on Saturday in Vernon Hargraves III, who is credited with five pass-break ups already this year, and has allowed just one reception per ESPN Stats and Info. Cooper is going to get receptions, but if Hargraves can eliminate the big play in the passing game it could give Florida’s front seven a chance to slow down ‘Bama’s rushing attack.

The Crimson Tide average 6.2 yards per carry on the ground, while Florida has allowed just 2.4 yards per rush. Dante Fowler has been a big part of the Gators’ defensive success with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

Prediction: Florida didn’t look very good against Kentucky, which has prompted Vegas to make Alabama a 14.5-point favorite at home. I think the Gators’ defense will have some success against Alabama early, but will eventually get worn down because I don’t expect the Florida offense to do much against the Crimson Tide (even with a struggling secondary). I think Alabama wins 27-10.

North Carolina (2-0) at East Carolina (2-1)- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU: If it wasn’t for a handful of missed opportunities against South Carolina, the Pirates could have been 3-0 with a win over a pair of ranked opponents entering Saturday’s clash with UNC. Instead ECU has just one win over a ranked opponent, after hanging on last weekend on the road for a 28-21 win over Virginia Tech.

UNC dropped out of the polls after struggling with San Diego State two weeks ago.

ECU can put up points, and has a legitimate star in quarterback Shan Carden. The Texan has thrown for 1,031 yards already this year and ran for the game-winner last weekend against the Hokies.

UNC can also score, averaging 43.5 points per game, but the Tar Heels gave up 509 yards of total offense against SDSU in a 31-27 win.

Prediction: ECU is a three-point favorite and the Purple Pirates certainly have all the momentum entering this one. That’s why I’m going with UNC. The Tar Heels win this one 42-38.

Mississippi State (3-0) at No. 8 LSU (3-0)- Saturday 7 pm. ET on ESPN: The good news for Mississippi State is they started the year off with three straight wins.

The bad news is Saturday’s SEC opener in Baton Rouge, La. is the first of three-straight games against Top-1o SEC West foes.

After an impressive comeback win over Wisconsin to start the year, LSU hasn’t allowed another point this year in wins over Sam Houston and Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers have a heck of rushing attack, averaging 226.3 yards per game on the ground.

The Bulldogs have been balanced on offense with an average of 266.3 yards passing and 260.3 yards rushing per game. If they’re going to have a chance against LSU they’ll have to show more than short screens in the passing game to move the ball.

Prediction: LSU is favored by 9.5 points. I don’t think Mississippi State is ready for the Tigers and LSU wins 24-7.

No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0) at West Virginia (2-1)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX: This will be the second top-four opponent for the Mountaineers in 2014.

West Virgina rode Clint Trickett’s arm to a 40-37 victory last weekend against Maryland. Trickett threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns.

The Sooners made quick work of Tennessee in a 34-10 victory.

West Virgina is averaging 410 yard passing per game (fifth best in the country) this year, but they haven’t faced a defense as explosive as Oklahoma’s (yeah I said it ‘Bama). OU has six interceptions and nine sacks this year, while giving up just 295.3 yards of total offense per game.

Prediction: I guess because they’re on the road and it’s the Big 12 OU is favored by just 7.5 in this one. While Trickett will be able to put some points up for the home team, I just don’t see West Virginia holding Trevor Knight back at all. Another big win for OU  35-21.

No. 22 Clemson (1-1) at No. 1 Florida State (2-0)- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ABC: This game has taken on some added intrigue with Jameis Winston being suspended for the first half after failing to realize that he truly does live in a bubble and even the slightest misstep will bring scrutiny and embarrassment to Florida State.

Independent Mail.

Sean Maguire will lead the Seminoles’ offense as Winston is on the sidelines. The redshirt sophomore is just 3 of 5 passing this year for 28 yards, but he did attempt 21 passes last season as the third-string QB. Head coach Jimbo Fisher won’t be afraid to let Maguire take his shots against Clemson, but he’ll also rely heavily on a rushing attack that’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry with a senior offensive line.

Clemson will also likely play two QBs in the game. Senior Cole Stoudt is the starter, but freshman DeShaun Watson has come on fast and could unseat the veteran as the starter by the end of the season.

Clemson gave up 45 points to Georgia in its opener, with 21 points coming in the fourth quarter. If the offense can have some success early against an FSU defense that allows just 4.9 yards per play this year, then Clemson has the athletes on defense to make Maguire uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing- Jimbo Fisher has owned Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee. As the offensive coordinator and the head coach (he still calls the plays), FSU has scored an average of 35 points per game in the seven games, and scored at least 30 points the in the last three, including last year’s 51-14 smack-down.

Prediction: Even with Winston suspended for a half, FSU is still favored by 16.5 points at home. Fisher will put up points on Clemson, but I don’t know if the Seminoles’ defense is 17-points better than Clemson this year. I think FSU makes it 19-straight wins with a 28-24 victory.

National Seed Projections

Tom Kessler

We’re a little more than halfway through the college baseball season.

I got a chance to take in Florida State and Georgia Tech over the weekend for the Tallahassee Democrat (you can read Sunday’s story here, and click the baseball tab to see the rest). I was impressed with both teams, especially Georgia Tech, who is doing a nice job of playing itself back into postseason contention after a slow start.

FSU once again looks like a top-eight national seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Here is my best shot at projecting who else will join FSU as a national seed this summer.

1. Virginia, 30-6 and 14-4 ACC. RPI No. 8: The Cavaliers are off to an incredible start in 2014 with 30 wins. UVA currently boasts the fourth-best ERA in the country with a 2.06. The Cavs have taken two of three from both Miami and Clemson this year. All three weekend starters have an ERA below three runs, and closer Nick Howard (1.56 ERA, 11 saves) has been sensational. The biggest concern for Brian O’Connor’s squad is the offense. UVA averages just 5.6 runs per game. Mike Papi does provide a power presence with a .319 average, 31 RBI and six homers.

2. Texas, 30-8 and 9-3 Big 12. RPI No. 3: Texas split its opening series with California, and dropped an early series with Kansas, but the Longhorns have been on a tear lately. UT swept Oklahoma over the weekend and has a big series against TCU this weekend. The Longhorns have taken 2 of 4 from Rice this season, and defeated Houston in their only match-up. Texas has the fifth-best ERA in the country at 2.12. In 1,221 at-bats this season, Texas’ opponents have recorded just one home run and 43 extra-base hits. Offensively Texas averages five runs per game, but has scored at least seven runs in four straight games.

3. South Carolina, 28-8 and 8-7 SEC. RPI No. 2: South Carolina ripped off 16 straight wins to start the season, but is in a bit of a tailspin right now. The Gamecocks dropped 2 of 3 to Florida over the weekend and lost 4-1 to Charleston Southern on Tuesday. Pitching is USC’s strength, with a team ERA of 1.88 (good for second-best in the country), and all three weekend starters have at least five wins. In half of the Gamecocks’ losses their opponents have scored four runs or less. Only Grayson Greiner has more than 23 RBI for USC. If they don’t find some more offense soon it could be short postseason run for the Gamecocks.

4. Florida State, 28-8, 14-4 ACC. RPI No. 4: Florida State dropped its first weekend series of the year this weekend in Atlanta, losing two of three to Georgia Tech just days after Florida completed its season sweep over the Seminoles. Still FSU has an impressive resume with two wins at Clemson, two at home against Miami and an 11-4 record overall on the road. DJ Stewart has been a monster this year with a .374 average, 30 RBI and seven homeruns. John Nogowski has developed as a solid run-producer too for the Seminoles with 36 RBI for a team averaging 7.3 runs per game. Luke Weaver is an electric Friday night starter, but if Brandon Leibrandt (knee injury) doesn’t return soon then starting pitching could become a real worry for FSU. Gage Smith (4-0, 1.17 ERA) is as good a set-up man as there is in college baseball and it will take a lot to get to closer Jameis Winston (1.56 ERA, five saves).

5. Oregon State, 27-7 and 11-4 PAC-12. RPI No.24: Oregon State dropped a pair of early games to Nebraska and Michigan State, but didn’t lose consecutive games again until Arizona State took two of three on March 22 and 23. Starter Ben Wetzler is 6-1 in his seven starts with a 0.69 ERA (fourth best in the NCAA). The Beavers as a staff have an ERA of  2.20 (8th best in the country) and have allowed just one homerun. The duo of Dylan Davis (.296 avg., three HRs and 40 RBI) and Michael Conforto (.395 avg., two HRs and 38 RBI) power the offense. Remaining weekend sets against Oregon and Washington will go a long way towards determining the Beavers seeding.

6. Cal Poly, 31-5 and 8-1 Big West. RPI No. 12: In the footsteps of Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, Cal Poly belongs in the national seed discussion after its start in the Big West. Cal Poly has series victories over Kansas State, UCLA, California and UC Santa Barbara (RPI No. 33). As a team the Mustangs are hitting .301 with an on-base percentage of .391. Five players have driven in 26 runs or more. Starting pitchers Casey Bloomquist (8-0, 1.58 ERA), Matt Imhof (7-2, 2.07 ERA) and Justin Calomeni (7-1, 3.40 ERA) have been more than good thus far. A three-game series beginning on Thursday with Cal State Fullerton (18-13) could firmly put the Mustangs in the top eight.

7. Florida, 24-13 and 9-6 SEC. RPI No. 1: The Gators have been a hard team to figure out in 2014. UF dropped an early series to Miami, and three of four in a three-team round robin with Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois. They bounced back with a series win at Texas A&M, but then dropped a series to Kentucky. The Gators are now trending upwards once again after completing the season sweep of Florida State, sweeping LSU and taking two of three from South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.. Florida has used 12 different starting pitchers so far this season. Logan Shore (3-2, 1.67 ERA) is the only one to make more than five starts. UF as a team has an ERA of 3.44. Offensively Taylor Gushue carries the load for a team that averages just 4.5 runs per game with a .338 average, 32 RBI and four homeruns. The two biggest remaining series for UF are at Alabama May 2-4 and at home against Vanderbilt the following weekend. The Gators can’t afford to drop to both of those three-game sets if they’re going to be a top-eight team, even with their strength of schedule and RPI.

8. Louisiana-Lafayette, 34-4 and 14-1 Sun Belt. RPI No. 7: What a start for the Rajin Cajuns. After dropping their season opener ULL won 10 straight, including a mid-week win at LSU and taking two of three from Alabama. The team’s .327 batting average is the fourth-best in the country and second baseman Jace Conrad’s 42 RBI put him in a tie for the the ninth-most in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette’s weekend rotation is a combined 17-2 with three complete games. With an RPI that will continually drop due to Sun Belt-play, ULL has to avoid dropping any remaining weekend series and mid-week games to remain a top-eight seed. A more-than-feasible request with its remaining schedule.

Others in the hunt: Ole Miss (29-9, RPI No. 5), Houston (26-9, RPI No. 6), Washington (24-7, RPI No. 13), LSU (27-9-1, RPI No. 21), and Vanderbilt (27-10, RPI No. 14).

*Stats and RPI rankings are as of April 15.

Final Four picks

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Here is my billion dollar bracket ladies and gentleman. No way does this not make me rich enough to buy a private island.

My Final Four is Florida, Duke, Arizona and Iowa State. I feel least confident in the Cyclones obviously, but Duke is far from a lock as well. I think that the Gators truly are the best team in all the land, and with Billy Donovan on the sideline they’re my pick to cut down the nets.

I can’t wait until 3 p.m. tomorrow when like the rest of you, my dreams of being a billionaire are dashed again. Enjoy the madness everyone.

Five Christmas Gifts That Prove College Football Rules The World

With the Christmas season coming to an end, I take a look at five gifts I saw this season that prove College Football really does rule the world.

5. Florida State themed pasta salad

Photo from @tiptap007

Photo from @tiptap007

That’s right, garnet and gold pasta salad, with a gameday vinaigrette. This bad boy includes three different recipes, one for each phase of the game.

It’s a little hard to make out what exactly the actual pasta is in the shape of, but let’s hope it’s not Tommy Wright’s face. Hopefully it’s just little footballs and things like that.

This one was shared with me by Tap Cathcart on Twitter, so thank you sir. I hope the pasta salad tastes like victory.

4. SEC coloring books

photo(2)My fiancée’s little cousins opened these bad boys the day I arrived in Alabama for quick Christmas visit.

You can either choose to stay inside the lines with Alabama’s Al the Elephant or Georgia’s UGA. Unfortunately the Georgia book did not teach the kids about which knee ligament is which, it would be a valuable lesson for Dawg fans after this seasons.

The family is a split household of both Auburn and Alabama fans, so the kids decided they would just give Al an Auburn jersey on a couple of pages.

No word on how many class credits you get at SEC schools for successfully staying inside the lines in an entire book.

3. Florida Gators crock-pot

1537648_10104553828822351_1564469422_oThis cooking device popped up on Facebook feed courtesy of a two-time Florida graduate.

As you can see it’s designed to mirror the Gators’ helmet. I like to imagine that when the timer goes off it’s just Will Muschamp screaming boom!

I don’t think there is a gift that better represents Florida’s offensive philosophy. The food from crock-pots are slow developing, generally bland and more often than not disappointing.

2. Cotton Bowl tickets

This one was featured on Deadspin, but it’s worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.

A Missouri fan’s father opens up tickets (sounds like he’s an Alabama fan) and pretends that they’re Sugar Bowl tickets, but uh-oh turns out these tickets are for some game in Dallas. That’d be the Cotton Bowl, you know the game with Missouri and Oklahoma State?

The Tigers’ fan reacts with a “Are you shittin’ me?!?” Pretty awesome reaction, and a nice gift from his family, even if you can grab tickets for as low as $29 according to SeatGeek.

1. BCS Championship tickets

instagram.com/johnmilt

instagram.com/johnmilt

Of course the most popular gift I saw this Christmas season on my social media pages were tickets to the BCS National Championship game between Florida State and Auburn in Pasadena, Calif.

The tickets pictured to the left are from my buddies Instagram page. He wasn’t the only one I saw posting pictures of their tickets on social media (shout out to @BigGuy21 who sent me pic of his tickets on twitter).

The cheapest pair of tickets online as of Sunday December 29 are listed at $450 each.  There’s no better gift to an Auburn or FSU fan than the chance to see your team compete for championship in person.

There’s not as many reaction videos on Youtube for Championshp tickets this year, and nothing close to last year’s winner (an Alabama fan’s father freaking out).

Here is this year’s winner so far is Collin, an Auburn fan freaking out that his parents got him tickets.

Power Rankings

SEC-ACCAfter a one-week hiatus let’s check back in on the SEC and ACC power rankings.

SEC Power Rankings

14. Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC): After falling in an early hole, the Wildcats almost came up with their first SEC-win of the year, only to fall short to Mississippi State 28-22. Mark Stoops’ defense continues to be the weak link. The Bulldogs racked up 447 yards of offense and converted 10 of 18 times third down. Alabama State comes to town just in time.

13. Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 SEC): I hope Bulldog fans enjoyed the last weeks, because starting on Saturday Mississippi State faces South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama all in row. Not good news for a team that let Kentucky hang around.

 

12. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC): After a BYE week the Hogs face their fifth straight ranked opponent on Saturday. In its last two losses Arkansas gave up 52 points, and Auburn is averaging 37 points per game. Brett Bielma should probably just lay low for a while, but now he’s questioning the tapes that Auburn provided him. His baptism to the SEC continues this weekend.

11. Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC): After a big win over South Carolina two weeks ago, the Volunteers were dismantled by the Alabama machine last weekend. Rajion Neal is on a roll at running back, but that likely ends this week with a trip to Missouri on Saturday.

10. Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC): Like Tennessee, Vanderbilt came back down to earth this weekend in a 56-24 loss to Texas A&M after beating Georgia two weeks earlier. Vandy takes a week off before a four game stretch to end the year. The Commodores have a chance to win three of those four en route to second straight bowl game.

9. Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC): Florida’s offense is still a pile of hot garbage and last week’s 36-17 loss to a Missouri team playing with its second-string QB really showed just how much of a toll injuries have taken on the Gators’ defense. A loss on Saturday to Georgia could really put Will Muschamp’s job in jeopardy.

8. Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC): Thanks to a win over LSU two weeks ago, The Rebels have a really good shot at getting to eight wins this season. It’s late in the season and you can see Hugh Freeze’ young and talented roster is finally starting to click a little bit. These aren’t your daddy’s Rebels.

7. Georgia (4-3, 3-2 SEC): With the exception of perhaps this weekend’s opponent, no team’s season has taken a nose-dive quite like Georgia’s. Mark Richt’s team comes into the Cocktail Party with virtually no chance at a repeat trip to Atlanta. The good news is the return of Todd Gurley could spurn a strong finish for a young UGA team.

6. LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC): After stumbling against Ole Miss, LSU made quick work of Furman 48-16 last weekend. LSU’s young defense should benefit from a week off before traveling to Alabama in two weeks. Zach Mettenberger’s legacy as a Tiger will likely be defined by how he performs against the Tide.

5. Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC): Just as Gary Pinkel and Missouri got the whole country ready to buy in on this team, the Tigers lose in double-overtime to South Carolina. Missouri still controls it’s own destiny in the division formerly known as the SEC East. The Tigers should get back on track the next two weeks against Tennessee and Kentucky before a defining final two weeks of the season.

4. South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC): After losing to Tennessee two weeks ago, the Gamecocks kept their season alive with a big double-overtime win against Missouri. South Carolina just needs to take care of business against Mississippi State and Florida and they will have a great shot at an SEC East title with Missouri facing Texas A&M to end the regular season.

3. Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC): The Aggies bounced back from its loss to Auburn with a convincing win over Vanderbilt. Texas A&M’s defense continues to struggle, but with Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans that won’t matter much until the final two weeks of the season. They finish their horrid non-conference slate this week against UTEP.

2. Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC): Is Auburn really the second-best team in the SEC? Probably not, but after Alabama the whole conference is a whole lot of average. Gus Malzahn and Nick Marshall get most of the attention in Auburn’s quick turnaround this season, but the defense has come up with big stops lately. If that continues Auburn might have a shot at knocking off Bama.

1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC): The Crimson Tide’s methodical march towards a third-straight national title has gone exactly as planned this season. Alabama has only been tested by Johnny Manziel, and they now have a week off before facing LSU on November 9. There’s really no one in the SEC on Alabama’s level this season.

ACC Power Rankings

14. Virginia (2-6, 0-4 ACC): Let’s just face the facts, Virgina won’t win a game in the ACC this season. As bad as North Carolina is, I think the Tar Heels will win in two weeks and the Cavaliers aren’t taking down Clemson, Miami or Virginia Tech. Seriously BYU, what the hell happened?

13. North Carolina (2-5, 1-3 ACC): Don’t call it a comeback. No really don’t. North Carolina finally got back in the win column Saturday with a 34-10 trouncing of Boston College, but it was more exception than the rule. UNC finishes the year with four wins is my guess.

12. North Carolina State (3-4, 0-4 ACC): Look on the bright side N.C. State, you finished strong against FSU. The bad news- all recruits and fans changed the channel when you went down 35-0 13 minutes in. The Wolfpack are bad, but they have a chance to secure some bragging rights to end the season with a game against UNC this weekend and Duke and ECU still on the slate.

11. Boston College (3-4, 1-3 ACC): Steve Addazio just needs to convince his team ever game is the first half against Florida State or Clemson, because outside of that things haven’t been very pretty for the Eagles this season. BC fell to lowly UNC 34-10 this weekend. They face Virginia Tech on Saturday.

10. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2 ACC): After defeating N.C. State, Syracuse looked poised to have a solid debut season in the ACC. Then the Orange lost to Georgia Tech 56-0. To that GT team. After a week off Syracuse looks to salvage its dignity against Wake Forest this weekend.

9. Wake Forest (4-4 2-3 ACC): Wake Forest has looked like a different team the last three weeks. The Demon Deacons came up just short in a last-minute 24-21 loss to Miami on Saturday, but Wake has picked up wins over N.C. State and Maryland. It’s still going to be an uphill battle to get bowl eligible.

8. Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-2 ACC): Losing to Navy the week before facing Georgia Tech is never a good sign. Pitt’s defense is a decent one, but they didn’t look good against Navy. Quarterback Tom Savage had a nice day. Pitt fans may be longing for the Compass Bowl by the end of the year.

7. Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2 ACC): The Yellow Jackets have bounced back wit ha couple nice wins the last two weeks. They’ll face a tough test in Pitt on Saturday, before a Thursday night trip to Clemson. A loss on Saturday would really make Tech boosters take a long hard look at Paul Johnson’s buyout (they should anyway but that’s besides the point).

6. Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC): Duke has rattled off four straight wins and has a legitimate shot at representing the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game thanks to last weekends 13-10 win over Virginia Tech. Aaron Boone just has to not turn it over in the last four weeks of the season and the Blue Devils will share the North Carolina State Championship with ECU.

5. Maryland (5-3, 1-3 ACC): A promising start has gone by the wayside for Maryland in its final ACC season. The Terrapins lost to Wake Forest 34-10 two weeks ago and let Clemson run away from them 40-27 last weekend. The Terps have a shot to win out, starting with Syracuse in two weeks.

4. Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1 ACC): Someone must have shown Logan Thomas the rankings during the BYE week, because he came out on Saturday and threw up all over himself. Thomas ran for 101 yards and a TD, but he also threw four interceptions as the Hokies lost to Duke AT HOME. If I’m a Hokie defender I have hard time honoring the non-contact jersey in practice. If VT doesn’t slip up again this weekend  against BC, then they still control their own destiny with a trip to Miami on November 9.


3. Miami (7-0, 3-0 ACC): Miami almost revealed it’s true self last weekend as it escaped Wake Forest 24-21. Still Miami is undefeated and comes into Saturday’s nationally televised game against FSU ranked No. 7. Miami. I do think the Hurricanes are an up and coming program, but the passing game lacks a game-changer.

2. Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC): Clemson started slow against Maryland, but avoided the slip-up with a big second half. If Clemson doesn’t lose focus the rest of the season, it’s rivalry game against South Carolina on November 30 could be for a BCS at-large bid. The Tigers still have one of the best offenses in the country and their remaining opponents aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts (save for maybe USC).

89-004311. Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC):  There’s not a poll in the country that I wouldn’t have Florida State number one in. The Seminoles have been absolutely dominant this season. Jameis Winston is that dude, and the defense is allowing just 13 points per game. As long as FSU continues to win convincingly then they’ll have a shot to jump Oregon.

Week 8 Picks

Noles 247

Well let’s just pretend that last week’s picks didn’t happen. If it wasn’t for Oregon I would have been shutout with a 1-6 week to move to 23-19 for the year.

Pretty good slate of games this week, but let’s be real there’s only game you want me to breakdown: Florida State at Clemson. Let’s do it.

No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ABC: There’s no doubt that this has been the best week ever for the ACC. The league features the biggest match-up of the season with its two best teams, while Miami has also slid into the Top-10, Virginia Tech sits at No. 19 and future member Louisville is No. 8.

Getty Images

The winner of Saturday’s showdown in Death Valley will firmly be in the BCS Championship discussion, and its signal caller will be on pace to be a Heisman Trophy finalist in New York.

Much of the talk has centered around the two quarterbacks this week, and for good reason. Tajh Boyd is completing 66.5 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,783 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Jameis Winston is completing an absurd 73.2 percent of his passes, with 1,441 yards, 17 touchdowns and two interceptions. Winston ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, while Boyd is eighth.

Winston has made the highlight reel plays escaping the grasps of defenders on multiple occasions, only to deliver a knockout blow in the form of a touchdown pass. Boyd has the signature win, a 38-35 win over Georgia before the Dawgs lost Aaron Murray’s supporting cast to injuries.

Both teams’ defenses have been up and down this season. Florida State is currently ranked seventh in the country in total defense, allowing just 276.8 yards of total offense per game. But the Seminoles have been subject to slow starts, a problem they seemed to have corrected in a 63-0 win over Maryland.

I think that much of FSU’s slow starts on defense were a product of young first-time starters and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt experimenting with different personnel. FSU has been burned by misdirection (see: Boston College film) some this year and the Tigers run plenty of plays that could lead to eye violations for the ‘Noles.

Sammy Watkins will be the biggest test for the young FSU secondary. Last year an ill Watkins had just five catches for 37 yards, but in 2011 he torched FSU for seven receptions, 141 yards and two TDs.

Clemson’s defense is allowing 344.8 yards of total offense per game (21st in the country), but is second in the country in sacks with 24 (Va. Tech leads the way with 27). Vic Beasley leads the country with nine sacks.

AP Photo

Where the Tigers struggle on defense is against the run game. Teams are averaging 158.3 yards per game on the ground against Clemson. Syracuse racked up 323 yards on Clemson, but the following week Boston College was held to just 94 yards.

The run game was the difference for FSU last year in a 49-37 win. The Seminoles ran for 287 yards as a team, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Quarterback E.J. Manuel and tailback Chris Thompson each eclipsed the 100-yard mark, while James Wilder Jr. bruised his way to 65 yards and two touchdowns.

This year Devonta Freeman is leading the way for FSU on the ground with 385 yards, while Wilder and converted defensive back Karlos Williams are each averaging over 5.9 yards per carry. Freeman, who didn’t play against Clemson last year after the death of his cousin (who he considered a brother as the two grew up together), could be the difference for a young FSU team in this one.

Prediction: Despite FSU having a redshirt freshman QB and being on the road, Vegas is giving Clemson three points in this one. I don’t expect the stage to be too big for Winston and I really do think Freeman will have a huge impact against a poor-tackling Clemson defense. Before the year I was certain Clemson would win this game, but now after watching both teams play, I think that FSU comes away with 35-28 victory.

No. 15 Georgia at Vanderbilt- Saturday Noon ET on CBS: Georgia still likely won’t have Todd Gurley for this one, but I don’t think it matters. An angry UGA defense carries the load this week and the Dawgs cover the seven points in a 24-10 victory.

No. 22 Florida at No. 14 Missouri- Saturday 12:21 p.m. ET on ESPN3: With no James Franklin for Missouri, Florida is a three-point favorite on the road despite its own group of injured play-makers. I don’t like Maty Mauk’s chances against this UF defense, the Gators win 12-7 in a game that everyone will be glad wasn’t available on TV.

No. 24 Auburn at No. 7 Texas A&M- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: The Aggies are getting 13.5 points at home in this one. Texas A&M will win, but I think Nick Marshall will put up points on TAMU (Who hasn’t this year?) and cover. Texas A&M wins 35-31 over Auburn.

No. 9 UCLA at No. 13 Stanford- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN 2: After losing to Utah last week, Stanford is just a five-point favorite at home in this one. Utah hurt the Cardinal with a spread attack and UCLA’s offense is humming with Brett Hundley this season. I’m taking the Bruins on the road 24-17.

No. 6 LSU at Ole Miss- Saturday 7 p.m. ET on ESPN 2: LSU is coming off a big win over Florida, while Ole Miss lost a heart-breaker to Texas A&M last weekend. Vegas is giving the Tigers 10 points on the road and I think they’ll cover that. The young LSU defense is coming into its own and LSU takes down Ole Miss 42-20 in this one.

No. 20 Washington at Arizona State- Saturday 6 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network: Arizona State is favored by 3.5 points in this one. UW has lost two straight games to two very good opponents, but last time I checked Kieth Price still was the quarterback. Price and the Huskies get it done 28-17.

Power Rankings

SEC-ACCBeen a little busy this week getting trained for my new job as an NBA League Pass Operator at Turner (basically I send you national commercials when you’re watching an out of market NBA game on all platforms but Direct-TV), so we’re doing an energy efficient double dip today with both the SEC and ACC rankings in one post.

Since I’ll be watching so many NBA games this year that may lead to some more NBA posts in the future but for now let’s stick to college football.

Let’s start with the SEC rankings first (I mean the ACC is getting all the attention this week).

SEC Power Rankings

14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC): As expected Kentucky didn’t put up much of a fight against Alabama this week in a 48-7 loss. The next two weeks are really the last chance the Wildcats will have a legitimate shot at putting back-to-back wins together. They travel to Mississippi State on Saturday, followed by a visit from Alabama State.

13. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC): The Bulldogs avoided conference shame over the weekend with a 21-20 win over Bowling Green. Maybe we don’t schedule MAC teams that can actually beat us next time around, ok guys? MSU will take a step down in competition this weekend as it hosts UK.

12. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC): After a week off Vanderbilt starts a three-game stretch against Georgia, Texas A&M, and Florida with the Dawgs at home on Saturday. So far this season the Commodores have allowed at least 24 points in four of six games. That doesn’t bode well for games with UGA and the Aggies.

11. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC): The Vols had a week off to get over a heartbreaking overtime loss to Georgia, but unfortunately for them it looks like South Carolina got its act together during that week. Barring a big upset during the final stretch of the season, Butch Jones will be able to get a head start on recruiting evaluations during bowl week.

10. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC): With Saturday’s 52-7 loss to South Carolina, the Hogs have now lost four straight games going into this week’s tilt with Alabama. After a great start, Arkansas may not find the W column again until it host Mississippi State on November 23.

 

9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC): The Rebels put on a heck of a show against Texas A&M, but ultimately couldn’t come up with a stop in a 41-38 loss. Now Ole Miss’ defense gets the chance to try and slow down Zach Mettenberger and LSU’s air attack on Saturday. Good news is after that week the Rebels have three very winnable games to get bowl eligible.

8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC): Auburn handled Western Carolina 62-3 over the weekend, and were impressive enough to enter the Top 25 at No. 24. The Tigers now have a chance to prove that Gus Malzhan really does have the program back on track with a trip to College Station this weekend.

7. Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC): Florida’s offense stalled in a 17-6 loss at LSU Saturday. The Gators defense is still the best in the county, but once again it looks like against good teams the offense will be non-existent this season. Especially with running back Matt Jones lost for the year to a knee injury.

 

6. Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC): Georgia’s injuries and inability to tackle anyone with a pulse finally caught up to them on Saturday in a 41-26 loss to Missouri. Running back Todd Gurley is close to returning according to UGA, but it might be in there best interest to give him minimal work against Vandy with Florida looming.

 

5. Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC): Missouri and Gary Pinkel earned their signature win in Athens over the weekend. The Tigers are just one of two undefeated teams left in the SEC and currently sit at No. 14 in the polls. But things aren’t as great as they seem, quarterback James Franklin was likely lost for the rest of the regular season against UGA with a separated shoulder. I don’t like Missouri’s chances against UF (this weekend) or USC (next weekend) without that guy.

4. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC): Well it would appear that Jadeveon Clowney and the USC defense heard Steve Spurrier’s message loud and clear last weekend. The Gamecocks dismantled Arkansas on the road, a place they never play well. With the way Connor Shaw and Mike Davis are playing, USC could be in the driver’s seat for control of the East.

3. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC): LSU’s defense came up huge in its win over Florida this weekend. The struggling unit gave up just 240 yards of offense and recorded four sacks. (yes UF’s offense isn’t very good, but it’s the only game LSU hasn’t allowed a TD in this season). The defense will be put to the test in Oxford this weekend against Ole Miss.

2. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC): The Aggies won another thriller over Ole Miss this weekend. They’ll face another good test in dual-threat QB Nick Marshall and Auburn this weekend, but if TAMU can get by the Tigers they’ll set up a pretty dramatic three-way race to the finish line for SEC West. As long as Johnny Football stays healthy, the Aggies are a contender.

1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC): Here’s the goal for Alabama the next two weeks: Stay healthy against Arkansas and Tennessee prior to its November 9 showdown with LSU. After a bit of a slow start (for Bama standards), the running game and defense seem to be back up to speed.

ACC Power Rankings

14. North Carolina (1-4, 0-2 ACC): North Carolina didn’t play this week, but that wasn’t long enough for me to forget just how bad the Tar Heels have started 2013. They stay in last-place heading into Thursday night’s home game against No. 10 Miami.

 

13. Virginia (2-4, 0-2 ACC): Virginia almost stole on over the weekend from a banged-up Virginia, but fell 27-26. The Cavs racked up 505 yards of total offense, behind 112 yards rushing by Kevin Parks. While the signs of life are good to see from UVA, I don’t really see another W for them in 2013.

12. North Carolina State (3-3, 0-3 ACC): We can keep talking about how this is still Tom O’Brien’s fault, but at some point Dave Doren has to get his new guys to buy in. A 24-10 loss to Syracuse didn’t help matters. N.C. State has the week off before traveling down to Tallahassee in two weeks. The good news is that Jacoby Brisset will take over at QB next season.

11. Wake Forest (3-3 1-2 ACC): After an off-week its Wake Forest’s turn to see if they can give Maryland a nice ACC parting gift in Winston-Salem this weekend. The Demon Deacons have look pretty pedestrian so far this season, but somehow Jim Grobe has found ways to win games. They have work to do to go bowling, but somehow it might not be out of the question.

10. Boston College (3-3, 1-2 ACC): Boston College once again but a scare into a superior opponent this weekend in a 24-14 loss on the road to No. 3 Clemson. The Eagles look physical and if they can find a way to play like they did in the first half against Clemson and FSU, they could bloom into the dudes that Steve Addazio always dreamed of.

9. Duke (4-2, 0-2 ACC): Duke came up with a nice 35-7 win over Navy on Saturday. The Blue Devils are averaging 35.8 points per game this season, and will be boosted by the return of Anthony Boone at QB. They travel to UVA this weekend.

 

8. Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2 ACC): The Yellow Jackets free fall continued this weekend with a 38-20 loss to BYU on the road. It’s the third-straight loss for GT heading into this weekend’s home game against Syracuse. Vad Lee can’t seem to get out of his own head, throwing his fifth interception of the season Saturday. 

7. Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 ACC): Syracuse picked up its first ever ACC win on Saturday in Raleigh. The Orange are playing pretty good football so far this season with a rushing attack ranked 23rd in the nation, and a defense allowing 24.5 points per game.

 


6. Pittsburgh (3-2, 2-2 ACC): For the second straight game, the Panthers offense struggled on Saturday against Virginia Tech in a 19-9 loss. Pitt had just 23 yards rushing in the loss and a Tom Savage completed just 13 of 28 pass attempts. Pitt has a chance to build some momentum the next three weeks before hosting Notre Dame on November 9.

5. Maryland (5-1, 1-1 ACC): So here’s what we know about Maryalnd so far this season: They’re way worse than Florida State and just one point better than Virginia when they don’t have starting QB C.J. Brown. Brown (concussion) should return this weekend against Wake Forest.

4. Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0 ACC): With the way Logan Thomas has been playing the last few weeks I think that Frank Beamer and the Hokies would like to skip the BYE week this weekend if they could. VT is up to No. 19 in the polls. Perhaps Virginia Tech can find a running game during the week off.


3. Miami (5-0, 1-0 ACC): The Hurricanes became a Top-10 team during the BYE week. The trick now for Miami will be to avoid the ACC trademark of losing to inferior opponents. That task begins with a Thursday night road game against UNC this weekend, with a classic trap game against Wake Forest trapped between that game and a trip to Tallahassee.

89-004312. Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC):  The Seminoles were off last week, giving them an extra week to prepare for the colossal showdown with Clemson this weekend. Jimbo Fisher seems to have loosened the reigns a little bit this week, allowing the football players to judge and help the basketball team with their dunk contest and inviting ESPN in all day on Monday for multiple live All-Access shots on SportsCenter.

1. Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC): After a slow start, Clemson’s defense and Tajh Boyd carried the Tigers in the second half of a 24-14 win over BC. Boyd finished with 334 yards passing, while a sack and forced fumble by Tony Steward sealed the deal as Vic Beasley returned it for a score. Saturday’s game against FSU will catapult either team firmly into the BCS Championship discussion.