The national title picture is beginning to take shape, and if things don't change in a hurry, the chatter will be as loud as ever.
Alabama is the clear No. 1 team in the land and even with a couple stiff SEC challenges ahead, there's no reason to think that will change prior to the naming of the two combatants in the national championship game. After that, however, it gets a little hairy.
Oregon is certainly the fans choice, and with good cause, but the Ducks don't control their own destiny. They do, however, have a tough stretch in front of them, which is both good and bad. Considering there are four undefeated teams, the tougher the better - they'll need the strength of schedule points as well as the points from the polls.
Kansas State probably deserves the second spot, but I dare say the Wildcats pedigree might come into play before season's end. By that, I mean this team is not used to being in this poisition, and you never know how these kids will handle the pressure down the stretch.
Then there is Notre Dame. Who would have thought the Irish would be in this spot? With only one tough test remaining, though, Notre Dame needs the most help. It looks like Notre Dame would be the one left on the sideline if there were a three-way or four-way tie. Can you imagine an undefeated Notre Dame left out of the national championship game? A decade ago it would have never happened, but after years of mediocrity, this is what they are left with.
All of this speculation is what makes the college football season so much fun, though. If the four-team playoff were in place, all three teams might make the final mix, which would render the rest of the regular season meaningless. And that's one thing we can never have in college football, for it is far and away the most entertaining regular season in sports.
As for my picks, the upward trend continued again last week, and this time it was more of a sharp uptick. The top plays are coming through with flying colors lately (7-1 last week), a trend I hope continues in the coming weeks.
Let's look at the card this week.
Cream of the Crop (Week: 3-1-0/Season: 11-23-0)
Iowa at Indiana: It's one thing to lose to Penn State or Northwestern, it's an entirely different proposition to lose to the likes of Indiana. The Hoosiers are coming off a double-digit win at Illinois last week, but that's nothing to write home about as Illinois is quite awful. For the Hawkeyes, this is a pride check. Lose here and the season is completely lost. Win and, well, at least you can think about a bowl game.
Side: Iowa +1.5
Alabama at LSU: These teams met up twice last year, and while LSU somehow squeaked out a win in the first matchup, the second game was a better indicator of where these teams are now. There is still a large gap between these two teams, and we'll once again see it Saturday night. LSU's defense will hold tight for a while, but it will break at some point, while Alabama's defense will hold strong the entire game.
Side: Alabama -9.5
TCU at West Virginia: This may be a case of chasing, but I'll be damned if West Virginia isn't going to hit another over this season. Two weeks ago the Mountaineers were held in check by KSU, but that was two weeks ago. In other words, they've had two weeks to fix their problems on the offensive side of the ball. As for the defense, well no amount of time is going to fix that. So what of TCU? Well, uncharacteristically, the Horned Frogs defense has fallen off dramatically over the past month, and that trend should continue this week as WVU gets back on track.
Total: Over 68
Illinois at Ohio State: Only a major letdown from the Buckeyes will keep this one within the number. Considering we saw such a letdown two weeks ago against Purdue, I highly doubt it happens again. Illinois is terrible, so bad that a 14-point loss at home to Indiana last week did not come as a surprise. OSU should have this number covered by halftime.
Side: OSU -27.5
Best of the Rest (Week: 4-0-0/Season: 24-18-0)
Washington at California: The side is too hard to call here as both teams have been all over the map this year, but the under looks like a solid play. California has played three of its five conference games under 50 points, while Washington has played three of its five games under 40 points. Cal is coming off an embarrassing defensive performance last week against Utah, and I expect a much improved effort this week.
Total: Under 52.5
Boston College at Wake Forest: I generally avoid laying points with bad teams, but in this case I'll make an exception for two reasons. First, B.C. is awful this year. Sure, the Eagles beat Maryland at home last week, but that was only their second win on the season. Second, if Wake has any hope of playing in a bowl game this season, the Deacons must win this game. That should be enough to cover the number.
Side: Wake Forest -3.5
Houston at East Carolina: These teams are starting to heat up on the offensive side of the ball and you guessed it - neither team plays a lick of defense. The Pirates have surrendered 35 or more points in three of their last four while the Cougars are just two weeks removed from a 35-72 pasting at the hands of SMU.
Total: Over 67
Nebraska at Michigan State: Nebraska is coming off an impressive win over Michigan last week, but just as that game was at home, so have all the other impressive wins by the Cornhuskers this year. MSU is also coming off an impressive win, and I think that win will help the Spartans confidence this week as they face another tough test.
Side: MSU +2
UTSA at Louisiana Tech: UTSA has really struggled in conference games this season, and let's remember, this is the WAC we are talking about. In its last three games, UTSA has lost by an average of more than 26 points. Louisiana Tech is coming off a game last week in which it went through the motions against New Mexico State and won by only 14 points. LT will bounce back with a strong offensive showing this week and cruise to victory.
Side: Louisiana Tech -32
PASSing thoughts: (Week: 2-4-0/Season: 17-29-0)
Virginia Tech at Miami: A battle of two disappointing teams on Thursday night this week, but one team has disappointed more than the other. Miami's had two bad losses this season, but those came at the hands of Kansas State and Notre Dame. Virginia Tech on the other hand has lost to a bunch of mediocre teams and the Hokies have been especially poor on the road, losing by double-digits in all three contests.
Side: Miami +1.5
Missouri at Florida: Missouri just isn't very good this year, and while Florida might have a hard time rebounding after a tough loss last week, I think the Gators will snap out of it in time to trounce the Tigers.
Side: Florida -17
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame: A couple things in play here. First, Notre Dame doesn't exactly have the offense to cover such a big number, so it needs a near perfect effort from the defense. Considering the huge win last week, I highly doubt we'll see an inspired effort. Sure, Notre Dame should dominate this game, but we said the same thing a couple weeks ago when the Irish faced BYU.
Side: Pittsburgh +17
Michigan at Minnesota: Call me crazy, but I think the Gophers have turned a corner with their new QB, freshman Phillip Nelson. Michigan will likely be angry after a bad loss last week, but that won't be enough to cover this rather large number.
Side: Minnesota +12.5
Oregon at USC: I don't know why I'm afraid to fade the Trojans, but something in the back of my mind tells me they will put up a fight this week. That said, that is the only reason I have them in this category instead of with my higher plays. I like the Ducks this week, but I think it's going to be close for a while.
Side: Oregon -8