Just one week after I said there was no need to talk about the national championship game this early, Alabama goes and lays an egg, and suddenly everything is crystal clear. I know, you were expecting me to say everything is in chaos, and normally you'd be right. A loss like Alabama's near the end of the season usually throws everything out of whack, but this time it made the path quite easy to see.
In fact, as long as Kansas State and Oregon win out, there won't even be any discussion about the top two teams come the end of November.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, it will be the team left out of the mix if everything holds form for the remainder of the season. The Irish have only themselves to blame. If not for a couple unnecessarily close calls against BYU and Pittsburgh, they might actually have a beef, but here is where margin of victory comes into play.
Although it's not an official factor in the BCS formula, margin of victory, or style points if you will, matters quite a bit in the minds of pollsters, and with good reason.
If Notre Dame had won each of the games mentioned above by, say, 21 points, you could reasonably make a case that the Irish would beat those teams 90 percent of the time. In other words, the Irish would have proven themselves the better team without a doubt. Instead, the results were too close, leaving us and pollsters with the impression that maybe they aren't elite, maybe if these teams had played 10 times, they'd split 50/50 or worse yet, if either of those games were on the road, the Irish might have two losses on their resume.
Meanwhile, Kansas State and Oregon have left little doubt in anyone's mind this season. Both teams have somehow avoided even a nail-biter, against the likes of teams like BYU and Pittsburgh anyhow.
The good news for the top two teams in the nation is this - win out and you are in. Style points don't matter anymore. The heavy lifting is done, simply put up a W each week and you are playing for the national championship in January.
Back to my picks, things continues to look up as I finally scored a perfect week in my top category. It was a rough start to the season, but I can honestly say, I'm very comfortable now.
Let's look at the card this week.
Cream of the Crop: (Week: 3-0/Season: 16-25)
Tennessee at Vanderbilt: 37, that's the least amount of points Tennessee has surrendered in a conference game this season. While Tennessee has been a wreck on defense, its offense has continued to produce. Vanderbilt has shown the ability to slow the dregs of the SEC, but Tennessee provides a much stiffer challenge. I like Vandy in the game, but I like the over much more. Expect Vandy to score a bunch of points and Tennessee to keep up for most of the game.
Total: Over 60
Oklahoma at West Virginia: West Virginia has no hope of slowing the Sooners offense this week, and although it looks like the Mountaineers found a little rhythm last week on offense at Oklahoma State, they'll find a much stiffer defense this week. Sure, the game is in Morgantown, but that didn't matter a few weeks back when Kansas State came to town.
Side: Oklahoma -11
USC at UCLA: USC has the talent to win this game comfortably, but for whatever reason, the Trojans simply cannot get any separation on the road. Yes, they are at home as well this week, but it's not a true home game. That's beside the point, though. UCLA is more than capable of pulling this one out, but to do that, the Bruins will need to put up a lot of points. Luckily, the Trojans defense has had little success slowing down a decent offense this season. This should be a classic back and forth battle with UCLA finding a way to pull it out in the end.
Total: Over 65.5
Stanford at Oregon: The Ducks need only to pull out a win here, but in order to do that, they'll probably have to put up 40 points as their defense has been lacking lately. Stanford has not lived up to its billing this season, but if the Cardinal can pull out a win, their season will be complete. I don't see that happening, but I do expect Stanford to put up some points.
Total: Over 64.5
Best of the Rest (Week: 2-2/Season: 29-22)
Hawaii at Air Force: Air Force is not exactly cruising, but Hawaii is a complete dumpster fire. The last time the Warriors kept a game within 10 points was Sept. 16 against Lamar. Lamar? Is that a team or one guy? Anyhow, Air Force is looking to get back on track after consecutive losses, and the perfect team is coming to town for that. Air Force should have little trouble putting this game away.
Side: Air Force -22.5
Kent State at Bowling Green: A lot on the line this week as the two best teams in the MAC East meet up to determine who'll represent the East division in the MAC championship. Bowling Green has relied heavily on its defense this season, while Kent State has used a balanced attack most of the year. I expect this game to be close, and I'm not comfortable picking a side, but the total looks enticing sitting at only 47. Sure, Bowling Green's defense has been sharp all year, but this might be the best attack it's faced in a while.
Total: Over 47
Arkansas at Mississippi State: Arkansas' miserable season is about to come to an end, but I think the Hogs have one last big effort in them - which will come next week against LSU. As for this week, well, the misery is likely to continue. Looking back on this season, there's little to be positive about. Even the small two-game winning streak came at the hands of the SEC's worst teams, and Mississippi State certainly isn't among the bottom feeders of the SEC.
Side: Mississippi State -6.5
Purdue at Illinois: Same deal as last week with Illinois. The only thing to play for is its first Big Ten win this season, but I doubt that provides much motivation. Purdue, meanwhile, has a chance to go bowling with a win this week and next against Indiana. That's certainly reasonable, but first things first, get a win this week at Illinois, which shouldn't be too hard.
Side: Illinois -6.5
Tennessee at Vanderbilt: As mentioned, I like the over in this game, but if forced to pick a side, go with Vandy, for the reasons stated above.
Side: Vanderbilt -4
PASSing Thoughts (Week: 3-1/Season: 23-32)
North Carolina at Virginia: I'm not a big fan of this game, but it's the only game in town Thursday, so I'll give you my two cents. North Carolina was cruising along a few weeks ago and then something went horribly wrong with the defense, culminating in 68-50 loss last week to Georgia Tech. Virginia, meanwhile, was heading nowhere two weeks ago and suddenly everything turned around. With consecutive wins, the Cavaliers actually have a chance to go bowling if they can win out. North Carolina is the better team, but there's a lot of work to be done on that defense and on a short week, it might be too much to ask.
Side: Virginia +3.5
Minnesota at Nebraska: Nebraska continues to pull out wins each week, but the Huskers have had a tough time separating from their Big Ten opponents this year. While I doubt they'll have much trouble this week, I'm not sure they can cover this rather large number.
Side: Minnesota +20
Wake Forest at Notre Dame: I have a bad feeling that this is the week Notre Dame finally puts it all together and blows out its opponent, but I have to remove my record from the equation and go with the smart play, which is the points.
Side: Wake +24
Washington at Colorado: Colorado is giving points in bunches, and Washington is more than capable of keeping that trend going. The Huskies are coming off a big win last week, and I expect their focus, on defense at least, to be a little off this week with lowly Colorado on the schedule.
Total: Over 54.5
Ohio State at Wisconsin: I can't get a good read, which is why the game is down here. I am leaning toward Ohio State, however, as the Buckeyes have met every challenge this season.
Side: Ohio State +2.5
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