Some Insight: Tastes Like Tiger

The Insight Bowl was a fun time for all. Not as magical, nor as mystical, as the event 52 weeks earlier in Miami, but fun nevertheless.

Which is the positive of the bowl system. It gives teams like KU and Minnesota, who are in the "Others receiving votes" category (or even not that high in the college football pecking order) a nice outing to far off distant and (usually) warmer climes the last week of December, and give their fans an opportunity to enjoy watching and/or following their team one final time before the full onset of basketball season.

So keep the thirty bowls that are nothing more than exhibitions. Nothing wrong with having a little fun.

But for God’s sake, let’s have a few meaningful games as well. It is hard for me to understand why anyone would not want to see the top teams play each other with something on the line. And who wouldn’t want to see more games between teams from major conferences in September, rather than having to wait until December because the top teams refuse to play each other in the regular season—afraid that a loss will knock them out of contention for the pretend National Championship?

The BCS has destroyed September and December, with its proponents proclaiming that a playoff would undermine October and November—which, of course, is bull.

As I have noted before, there is no good reason to deny the teams and the fans a playoff. At some point, what is logical and right will prevail: we will have fewer exhibition games and more games that matter.

Until that day, the Insight, Alamo, Cotton, Orange, Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, et al., will still be fun.

But just fun.

Take it to the Bank: Finals Edition

Heading into the final weekend of the college football season, the Take it to the Bank record against the spread is 108-97. (You could look it up.) Although these picks are always for entertainment purposes only, anyone who had been foolish enough to take them seriously and wagered the same amount on every game all season would have won 52.6%--just above the break even point, taking into account the normal 5% vigorish charged by most sports books.

Because of the dearth of games on this week’s schedule, we have to employ Thursday night and high handicap contests to manage a full slate of games.

Thursday

1. Louisville +10.5 at Rutgers

Two trends tend to favor the Scarlet Knights: Their five game winning streak and Louisville’s four game losing streak. With the Home Field as added motivation, I’ll take:

RUTGERS

Friday

2. Buffalo +15 vs. Ball St (Detroit)

Buffalo is one of the most improved teams in the NCAA this season. MAC Eastern Division Champions. Rumor has it that Baylor is seeking a move to that conference and division as early as next year.

No, Buffalo can’t pull the outright upset. But can they stay within 15 of David Letterman’s undefeated alma mater?

Dave has ten reasons why they can’t.

BALL ST

Saturday

3. Navy -10.5 vs. Army (Philadelphia)

The Midshipmen sail to another big victory in this recently uneven series.

NAVY

4. Pitt +3 at. UConn

Two inconsistent teams. How in the world did UConn beat BCS-Bound Cincinnati by 24, then turn around and lose to West Virginia by 22—both at Home? I like UConn at Home. But I also like the three points Pitt is getting.

Not much to choose between these teams. I look to Pitt to suffer a slight letdown after their big win last week vs. WVU.

UCONN

5. South Florida +7 vs. West Virginia

It seems like a long time ago that USF vs. KU was a battle of ranked teams, both thinking BCS Bowls were in their future. They kind of exposed each other that fateful Friday night.

The Mountaineers come out with a vengeance to wash away the bad taste of the Pitt game. West Virginia’s #5 makes his last game in Morgantown a memorable one.

WVU

6. Washington +35 at Cal

Washington wins or goes winless. Is there anyone left who even cares?

CAL

7. Southern Cal -32.5 at UCLA

UCLA traditionally plays their arch-rivals tough in this series. Not this year, as USC makes its case for the opportunity to play Bama or FU on January 8. Think UT vs. A&M—if A&M had been even worse than they were.

USC

8. Arizona +10.5 at Arizona St

It is a little known fact that, before man migrated to what we now call Arizona—before even those we refer to as Native Americans—the animals of the area governed themselves. The primary law enforcement creatures were Grizzlies—which is why policemen, even today, are referred to as Bears. Anyway, not all of the animals were good and honorable. Otherwise there would have been no need for the Grizzlies. On one fateful day, a gang of wolves (what some would call a pack) teamed up and attacked one of the Grizzlies making his appointed rounds. The Grizzly put up a valiant fight, but there were simply too many bad guys to fend off. When he finally fell, the wolves ran off, feeling free to wreak havoc wherever they wished. The Grizzly, freed from fending off his attackers, reached for his two way radio and called his dispatcher. “Bear Down!” he said, weakly. Then again: “Bear Down.”

True story.

History does not record whether or to what extent the Grizzly recovered. But Arizona’s Wildcats have adopted his words as its unofficial motto to this day.

And that is exactly what they will do this weekend: Bear Down!

AU

9. Cincinnati -7 at Hawaii

As noted earlier, Cincinnati is not your typical BCS Bowl team, having been routed by a fair to middlin’ UConn team. And a lot of teams lose their focus in post-conference jaunts to paradise. Not to mention that Hawaii has appeared to be improving as the season has progressed.

But Cincy is good. And they do not want to be a laughingstock heading into their first ever BCS appearance.

CINCINNATI

10. Arkansas St +11 at Troy

Arkansas St beat A&M, for what it’s worth. Troy did everything but beat LSU in Baton Rouge, for what that’s worth.

What might be worth something is that, in their last nine games against the spread, ASU is 2-9, and Troy is 6-3.

TROY

11. Western Kentucky +7 at Florida International

The Hilltoppers are on a seven game losing streak. FIU only two—and they are at Home.

FIU

12. East Carolina +13.5 at Tulsa

The Pirates started the season like they intended to be a BCS party-crasher, taking out both Va Tech and West Virginia. They since have gone 6-4. But they know how to play big games. They might win this one outright. Even if they don’t, they should be able to stay within two TD’s.

EAST CAROLINA

13. Boston College vs. Va Tech (Pick) (Tampa)

This game is for all the marble. The ACC is not good enough to have more than one this year. In fact, consider this: Cincinnati and one of these teams will be in a BCS Bowl, while Texas Tech is playing in a second tier bowl game. Please, someone stop the insanity. You would think with all of UT’s spare change and T. Boone Pickens’ windmill money, someone could buy off the college presidents who put their own personal agendas ahead of the kids who play the game.

Still, one of these teams is going to play in a big money but big meaningless Bowl Game. Although not a Christian attitude, BC has revenge on its mind.

BOSTON COLLEGE

14. Alabama +9.5 vs. Florida (Atlanta)

When was the last time the undefeated No. 1 ranked team in the country was a 9 and ½ point underdog to a team that lost to Ole Miss at Home? Ever?

I think not.

FU might be the better team. But this is the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” game. I am not buying this spread.

ALABAMA

15. Mizzou +17 vs. Oklahoma (Kansas City)

This game will be closer than most people think. After last week’s loss to KU in Arrowhead, Mizzou has nothing to lose. They will play free and loose, and, as a result, are likely to just make plays. Their defense is inferior to OU’s, but not by much. Likewise, their offense is inferior, but not by much. And their special teams are much better.

Nor will MU be intimidated by the atmosphere in KC as they were last year in San Antonio. They will feel right at Home. And, having played OU reasonably close twice last year (despite the final margins, both games were within reach in the fourth quarter), they will not be intimidated by the mere sight of the OU uniforms. They also have the revenge factor. Not to mention the self-respect factor: if they limp into their bowl game with four losses and on a two game losing streak, everything the program has accomplished the last two years will be suspect.

The pressure is all on OU. If they don’t get off to a fast start, it could be a long night. If Mizzou scores first, a la KU last weekend, and can control the rhythm of the game, they will make OU more uncomfortable than the Sooners would like—and give UT reason to dream of Miami, much as Baylor did last Saturday in Lubbock. Except that Mizzou is less likely to stop scoring than Baylor.

The Sooners certainly have the ability to cover this spread if they are on top of their game. But if they feel the pressure or are just a little out of synch, an outright win by Mizzou is not out of the question in Chase Daniels’ last chance to demonstrate that he can play big time football in a big time game.

MIZZOU

--Mark

Where Is the Outrage about Mizzou's Schedule?

Where is the outrage over Mizzou winning the Big 12 North solely because of its weak schedule? Last year, KU was given a lot of grief and accused of being a fraud because the Jayhawks “avoided” Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. And wrongfully so. Texas and Tech last year were no better than two teams the Hawks played on the Road: Okie St (where Tech lost and UT escaped with a miracle fourth quarter), and A&M (where Texas lost)—and this doesn’t even account for UT’s 20 point loss at Home to k-state and its near death experience at Home vs. a Nebraska team that KU routed in an historical manner.

Playing Baylor instead of OU? Okay, you’ve got a point.

This year, Mizzou has had the schedule advantage, yet no one even mentions it.

In the Big 12 North, both Mizzou and KU are 4-1 (as is NU). In common opponents (the North and UT), both teams are 4-2. NU is also 4-2 vs. common opponents with Mizzou (the North plus Baylor); and vs. common opponents with KU (the North plus Tech).

So why is Mizzou playing in the Big 12 title game as the North’s sacrificial lamb, rather than KU? The Jayhawks, after all, beat the Tigers head to head on a neutral field?

Okay—so the Big 12 3 way tie-breaker discards head to head (and rightfully so), and Mizzou wins the hypothetical BCS ratings fiasco. Nevertheless, the ONLY reason Mizzou has an edge in the Big 12 North standings and has avoided the three way tie scenario is its schedule.

Mizzou’s non-common conference opponents vis a vis KU are Okie St at Home and Baylor in Waco vs. Texas Tech at home and Oklahoma in Norman. I will allow that Tech and Okie St are comparable opponents, making the teams’ comparable records 4-3.

But Baylor in Waco vs. OU in Norman? You decide whether Mizzou’s W at Baylor (a game they would have lost had a Baylor defender not dropped an easy Pick-6 in the last two minutes of a tie game) means they are more deserving than a team that had to play in a stadium where OU has lost twice in the Bob Stoops era.

The guess here is that Mizzou is 4-4 had they played OU rather than Baylor, and KU is 5-3 had the Hawks visited Waco instead of Norman.

At any rate, there is no logical basis for anyone concluding that Mizzou is a better team or a more deserving one than KU.

Take it to the Bank: Week 14's Games

What has the world come to when Texas is such a big favorite over A&M (35 points) that it is not even a game worth picking against the spread?

Take Thanksgiving Day off. The REAL action begins Friday:

1. Mississippi St +16 at Ole Miss

Stop me before I give Ole Miss too much credit for beating LSU.

Mississippi St

2. LSU -4.5 at Arkansas

Two great names in the world of college football that suck out loud. I mean OUT LOUD!

If LSU’s Pretend National Championship team can’t beat the Razorbacks in Baton Rouge, how is their Pretend Team this year going to win on the Road?

ARKANSAS

3. Colorado +18 at Nebraska.

Eighteen is a lot of points. But Colorado gives up a lot of points. And doesn’t score many. Bad combination.

NU

4. Fresno St +21 at Boise St

Boise St is undefeated, ranked in the Top 10, and headed for the Poinsettia or Blue Field Bowl. They take out their frustrations over the fiasco that is the BCS on Fresno.

BSU

5. UCLA +10 at Arizona St

The Bruins get caught looking ahead to their cross-town rivals.

ASU

Saturday

6. Miami (FL) -1.5 at NC State

Two teams finally hitting their stride. Home field makes the difference.

NCSU

7. Vanderbilt +3.5 at Wake Forest

Two teams that, like our beloved Jayhawks, have gone from dreams of grandeur to illusions of adequacy. The Demon Deacons are more than adequate at Home.

WAKE

8. UNC -7.5 at Duke

College Game Day. ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPNU, ESPN 360, Dick Vitale. The most overhyped event in all of sports.

Oops. Getting three months ahead of myself.

The first step in a sweep of the two sports that matter is taken by:

UNC

9. Baylor +22 at Texas Tech

How does Tech rebound from the butt whipping it experienced in Norman? My guess is that they have been thrown off their stride and start slowly—but pull away late on the High Plains.

TECH

10. KU +16 vs. Mizzou (K.C.)

Vegas was late to discover how good KU was last year—hence, the Hawks’ 12-1 record not only on the field of play, but also against the spread. I fear the reverse has happened this year.

MIZZOU

11. Oklahoma -7 at Okie St

I would not be surprised if the team that beat Mizzou in Columbia and did everything but beat Texas in Austin were to take OU out of the Pretend Championship Picture. Or if the team that was stomped by Tech in Lubbock was stomped in Stillwater.

OU

12. Auburn +14 at Alabama

Bama has a major score to settle with their arch-rival and tormentors of recent years.

ALABAMA

13. Florida -16.5 at Florida St

The Gators are feeling it. If the Seminoles stay within this spread, it will be the upset of the week.

FU

14. Kentucky +4.5 at Tennessee

An indication of how screwy the BCS system is: Phillip Fullmer has a Pretend National Championship on his resume.

A win Saturday, and he goes out avoiding the ignominy of being the only Tennessee coach to lose eight games in a season.

TENNESSEE

15. Oregon +3 at Oregon St

The Ducks would enjoy nothing more than depriving the Beavers of a spot in the Rose Bowl. This nailbiter will be decided by a two point conversion in the third OT.

OREGON

--Mark

Take it to the Bank: Pre-Thanksving Games

Guess I misread the situation in the KU-Texas game last weekend. Yes, I correctly took UT minus 13 points. But I anticipated that the bogus calls would come late in the game if the Jayhawks were in position to pull the upset.

But Nooooooooo. . . The Big 12 refs couldn’t wait longer than UT’s third play from scrimmage to step in and salvage a Longhorn drive that was otherwise 3 and out. The free first down led to seven points.

Not that it was necessary. KU would have been hard pressed to win this game even had Kerry Meier and Jake Sharp been at full strength. Still, another bogus pass interference call kept alive a third quarter drive and squelched the Jayhawks’ last hope of crawling back into the game. And KU was not good enough, as Tech had been two weeks earlier, to overcome a UT T.D. aided by the officials picking up a flag for a block in the back, and an imaginary offensive pass interference call (why does that ring a bell?) that kept UT in the game (within 6 points rather than 10) in the fourth quarter—allowing the Horns to take the lead before Tech’s Mario Chalmers moment.

Speaking of Tech, the Red Raiders headline the games of Week 13:

1. Texas Tech +7 at Oklahoma

Everything favors OU in this game: They have the revenge factor. A 23 game home winning streak, the longest in the country. They have lost but two home games in the Bob Stoops era. They are “at home” as well in big game situations. Another big game to the Sooners is like—well—another big game to the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech has never been in a game of this magnitude in its history. Yes, the same was true three weeks ago when the Red Raiders played UT in a battle of unbeatens, but (a) that game was at Home, and (b) this week’s game is further along the pressure path that leads to posterity. A win Saturday, and a berth on the Pretend National Championship Game is Tech’s to lose—or should I say give away. Wins over Baylor and Mizzou, both games in which Tech will be heavily favored, and Tech goes from having never played in a BCS Bowl game to playing Florida or Alabama for all the Pretend Marbles college football has to offer.

How can Tech not choke? How can they stay within one score of mighty Oklahoma?

They not only can, they will. They are the better team. If they have early success, they will roll the Sooners. If they fall behind early, they will continue playing, and once they start scoring, they will keep scoring against OU’s vulnerable defense. Think KU vs. Mizzou last year. Mizzou loosened up first, but when the Hawks started to score, they weren’t stopped, they simply ran out of time. Tech might not be able to pull it out on the Road. OU might lose by 14 or more or win by less than 7. Either way, the point spread winner is:

TEXAS TECH

2. Iowa St +10 at k-state

How in the world is k-state going to beat anyone by 10?

On the other hand, how in the world is Iowa St going to stay within 10 of anyone?

Quite the conundrum.

The Prince formerly known as Coach goes out in style. Kind of.

k-state

3. Illinois -3 at Northwestern

Which raises the question: What is Northwestern Northwest of? Or was it named after San Antonio attorney North West?

What I do know is that neither team is bad. Neither team is good. Just the sort of opponent KU would be happy to see in the Insight Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

I’ll take the Home Dog.

NORTHWESTERN

4. B.C. +2 at Wake Forest

Illinois at Northwestern: ACC Version. Except for the Home team being favored.

WAKE

5. Michigan +21 at Ohio St

Here’s the deal, Michigan. Take the 2 mil or so you owe West Virginia for stealing their coach and place it on the Buckeyes giving the points.

Voila. Problem solved.

OHIO ST

6. Michigan St +14 at Penn St

Penn St is one play from being one game from playing on January 8. They will win this game. But, damn, 14 is a lot of points against a good team.

MICHIGAN ST

7. Iowa -5.5 at Minnesota

The Gophers are another tempting Home Dog. I’ll bite.

MINNESOTA

8. Tennessee +3 at Vanderbilt

The Volunteers are one of only two college football programs that have never lost eight games in one season. They are 3-7.

And then there was one.

Ohio St if you’re wondering.

VANDY

9. Arkansas -1 Mississippi St

Don’t look now, but at 4-6, the Razorbacks still have a shot at going bowling. If they win out.

ARKANSAS

10. Ole Miss +4 at LSU

Don’t let LSU’s pathetic effort vs. Troy fool you.

The Bayou Bengals REALly are kind of pathetic.

In fact, if I think on this game too much, I might not take:

LSU

11. Syracuse +19.5 at Notre Dame

Vegas is dead on with this spread. Twenty points is too many for Notre Dame to give even a team as bad as Syracuse. Likewise, nineteen is too few.

Notre Dame covers on a last minute touchdown. Jesus!

ND

12. Washington -7 at Washington St

Washington St has not come within seven points of a Division 1 team all season. Then again, Washington has not beaten anyone by 7. Or by 1.

Has there been a worse matchup since Idaho at Utah St?

WASHINGTON

13. Oregon St +2.5 at Arizona

The Beavers move one step closer to the Rose Bowl.

OREGON ST

14. Boise St -6 at Nevada

Boise stakes its claim for a BCS berth.

BOISE ST

15. BYU +7 at Utah

The Blood Bath in the Beehive State. The Utes relegate Boise St to a minor bowl with a win over Brigham Young. This is a straight toss-up, likely to be decided on the final possession. No matter who wins, a full seven point margin is unlikely.

BYU

--Mark

Take it to the Bank: The Games of Week 12

Texas finds itself in quite a pickle. With Penn St’s loss, the Longhorns are ranked No. 3 in the BCS. All they have to do is win out and wait for either Tech or Alabama to lose, and they are in the BCS title game—right?

Not so fast, Phony-Championship Breath.

If Alabama loses, it will likely be to Florida in the SEC championship game, and the Gators will simply swap places with the crimson Tide as the conference’s almost certain representative in the only bowl game that matters.

And if Tech loses (more likely to OU in Norman than Baylor in Lubbock), and OU proceeds to beat Okie St, the Sooners will, in all probability, move past UT in the BCS Standings on the basis of strength of schedule, which is the deciding factor in a three way with Tech and UT.

But what if OU beats Tech and loses to Okie St? That scenario creates but a two-way tie between UT and Tech, with Tech holding the head to head tie-breaker.

But wait: Suppose Tech plays in the Big 12 championship game and loses to Mizzou. Will Texas then sneak into the Big Game?

Not likely. A clear bias against teams that do not win their conference or division was expressed last year when Georgia and KU were one loss teams that failed to win or even participate in their respective conferences’ championship games. If Texas does not play in Arrowhead on December 5, expect Southern Cal to magically jump them in the human polls to a great enough extent to result in a USC/SEC Pretend Title Game.

That is, unless there are special rules for Texas that apply to no one else. . .

Early line: Texas +3.5 vs. Florida on January 8.

1. Texas -13 at KU

There is, of course, no way that KU can win this game. First, it is being played a year late. Last year the Jayhawks were clearly the superior team and were unlucky that UT was not on the schedule.

This year, not only is UT unarguably the better team, there is BCS money involved. Don’t think for a minute that the Big 12 won’t send an officiating crew that understands that if Texas Tech wins out, the conference’s only chance of securing two helpings of BCS cash is for UT to also win out. Don’t be surprised if the conference pulls out all stops to clear UT’s path to a BCS bowl, including—yes, the nuclear option--assigning Freeman Johns, III to the game.

Of course, the officials only matter if KU can manage to keep the game close—and the Jayhawks have done nothing all season to suggest that it will be. But, this is college football, so anything (almost) is possible. If Iowa can take out Penn St. . .

But assuming, for the sake of the following poll that the game is close, and assuming that KU makes a play that would appear to secure a Jayhawk victory. Which of the following will occur:

a. Offensive pass interference is called against Dez Briscoe, negating TD Todd’s quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

b. Defensive pass interference is called against KU on a desperation fourth down pass by Colt McCoy that is swatted into the stands by Russell Brorsen.

c. UT is awarded a first down on a fourth and one handoff that is fumbled and recovered by Mike Rivera three yards behind the line of scrimmage.

d. Trailing by two with three seconds remaining on the clock, UT’s desperation 58 yard field goal attempt is called good despite being blocked and coming to rest at the 20 yard line.

e. All of the above.

Or “f”: the game will not close enough to require creative officiating.

Unfortunately, the Jayhawks’ blocking and tackling and other fundamentals, coupled with lesser talent, makes “f” all too likely in the absence of a sudden and unlikely epiphany. Or a serious cold front accompanied by precipitation.

UT

2. Mizzou -28 at Iowa St

There is no doubt that Mizzou will cover this spread at some point during the game. The question is whether they will allow Iowa St back within the spread as they did last Saturday with k-state.

Just a hunch:

ISU

3. Texas A&M +8 at Baylor

Baylor is slowly learning how to win. The first step is becoming proficient at covering the spread.

BAYLOR

4. Nebraska -6.5 at k-state

Next to the definition of “mediocrity” in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is a photo of a Nebraska football helmet.

Next to “head case” is Willie the Wildcat.

NU

5. Okie St -17 at Colorado

At least there is one easy pick this week.

OKIE ST

6. Northwestern +3.5 at Michigan

Little by little, the Wolverines are making progress. Kind of like Baylor, only without the decades of futility.

MICHIGAN

7. Ohio St -9.5 at Illinois

Payback is a bitch.

OHIO ST

8. Notre Dame -3.5 at Navy

Charlie Weis: “Where are we going? Why is it so hot in November? And what’s with the handbasket?”

NAVY

9. Vanderbilt +4 at Kentucky

It wasn’t that long ago that Vanderbilt was looking like the heir apparent to KU’s rags to riches story in 2007.

Yet it seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

KENTUCKY

10. Mississippi St +21.5 at Alabama

Alabama is the most resourceful team in the country. They will find way to win—but not necessarily easily.

MISSISSIPPI ST

11. South Carolina +22 at Florida

South Carolina has the better coach by a little bit. Florida has the better players. By a lot. Maybe 21 points worth.

USC

12. Utah St +14 at La Tech

When in doubt, find a Utah St game to pick.

LA TECH

13. Utah -30 at San Diego St

San Diego St almost took out Notre Dame in South Bend.

UTAH

14. UCLA -7 at Washington

How bad is UCLA? Not bad enough to lose to Washington. Or win by fewer than 7 points. . .

UCLA

15. Southern Cal -23 at Stanford

The best game the BCS could put together is USC vs. Oklahoma. Reason 143 why the BCS SUCKS.

USC

--Mark

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