I mentioned last week that the national championship picture was starting to take form, but after a week of close calls, yet no major upsets, the picture is as foggy as ever.
That's as far as I'll go into that this week though as one week of trying to decipher what will happen come January is quite enough.
This week I want to focus on motivation. What are these kids playing for?
Depending on the status of a given team, the goals could be as simple as making it to the post-season or as complicated as making it to the national championship.
As we enter the final stretch it is important to consider what these teams have on the line. Some teams will go all out for a game knowing it's the final chance to make a bowl, while other teams are more than ready to pack it in for the season. Now is about the time that the teams with no ambition remaining call it a year.
This week I'll be focusing on those match-ups involving teams with something at stake, but I think it's fair to warn you, on my first run through the lines, I didn't see much that I liked. With that said, this might be the fewest games I'll pick all season.
As for my picks last week, the upward trend stalled a bit with the upper two categories, but at least it didn't go in the other direction, it simply leveled off., but I still managed to stay over .500 for the week.
Let's take a look at the card this week.
Cream of the Crop (Week: 2-2-0/Season: 13-25-0)
Northwestern at Michigan: This line is a bit confusing. Northwestern has been pretty solid all year long and the Wildcats have made a habit of playing close games for much of the season, so why are they getting double-digits here? Having watched the entire Michigan game last week I came away unimpressed for the most part. The Gophers were with the Wolverines for much of the game and only let it slip away late. Northwestern is a much better team than the Gophers right now and even though this game is in the "Big House," I don't see how it gets out of hand.
Side: Northwestern +11
Maryland at Clemson: Maryland is a mess right now and there's no reason to think the 'Terps will turn it around before the end of the season. Their QB situation is dire and with no relief in sight, they can expect yet another whooping this week. Clemson meanwhile seems to have broken the mold of teams past as the Tigers continue to take care of business at every turn. They had an opportunity to fall flat at Duke last week, but they kept the pedal to the metal and blew out a decent team. They should have no trouble putting this game out of reach early this week.
Side: Clemson -31
Minnesota at Illinois: Illinois motivation here is simply to win a Big Ten game this season and while I don't want to discount that, the Gophers clearly have much more to play for this week. This might be the best chance for the Gophers to get that all-important 6th win and they should be able to accomplish that considering the competition. I expect Illinois to play its best game of the season this weekend, but that still won't be enough.
Side: Minnesota -3
Best of the Rest (Week: 3-2-0/Season: 27-20-0)
Florida State at Virginia Tech: This one looks pretty easy on paper, after all, Virginia Tech has performed well below expectations this year and Florida State has made a habit out of blowing out teams in the ACC, but as you know, the game isn't played on paper. The Hokies might need a win here to become bowl eligible down the road, but that's of little importance. This is a team that's used to playing on New Year's Day, not December 20th, I doubt they care about the post-season at this point. What they do care about is proving they aren't the embarrassment that the nation thinks they are right now. The only way to do that is to play a tight game with FSU this week, which I think they can do. A win seems like a stretch, but a cover is well within reason.
Side: Virginia Tech +14
Wake Forest at North Carolina State: The winner of this game will become bowl eligible, which is a huge deal for either team at this point. Wake is coming off a nice win last week while NC State is coming off a horrible loss to Virginia. These teams are evenly matched and I could see either one coming away with the win, so I'll take the generous amount of points here.
Side: Wake +8
Notre Dame at Boston College: After last week's near debacle, the 'Irish should be ready to take care of business this week from the onset. Boston College meanwhile has been punch-less all season long and should have no luck moving the ball against a stout Notre Dame defense. The 'Irish are probably well aware that they need help to make it to the National Championship Game, so a blowout here does them little good, but after last week, I can only assume a win against anyone will not be taken for granted.
Side: Notre Dame -19
Utah at Washington: Utah comes into this week off a couple impressive wins, but both of those wins came at home. The road has not been kind to the Utes this season as they've yet to win away from home. Washington on the other hand has only one loss at home this season and that came at the hands of USC.
Side: Washington +1
PASSing Thoughts (Week: 3-2-0/Season: 20-31-0)
Pittsburgh at Connecticut: Pitt might be the better team here, I stress might be, but after what the Panthers went through last week I can't imagine they've got anything left in the tank. This is going to be an ugly game that's likely decided in the final minutes, so I'll take the points.
Side: UConn +3.5
Texas A&M at Alabama: It's been a few weeks since we last saw "Johnny Football" struggle against a good defense and since then he's rattled off two very solid performances. That however should not make us forget about how many mistakes he made against LSU and that was at home. Now he and the Aggies go on the road to face the best team in the country which is coming off a very close call last week and will be in no mood for more drama this week.
Side: Alabama -14
West Virginia at Oklahoma State: The Mountaineers look like they've gotten back on track after a couple poor offensive showing, but the defense remains an issue. Enter Oklahoma State, which might actually have the most potent offense the Mountaineers have seen all season. This game should resemble the WVU vs. Baylor match-up from earlier this season and with that, the over looks like the play.
Total: Over 80
Arkansas at South Carolina: After a brief resurgence, the Hogs look like they are reverting back to their early-season form, especially QB Tyler Wilson who's been very careless with the ball over the past few weeks. South Carolina is likely still reeling from the loss of Marcus Lattimore, but the Gamecock offense is still effective without him. Expect more errors from Arkansas this week and another rout.
Side: South Carolina -14