It's the lone Saturday during the college football season when all we have is the Army-Navy game ... and it's now in the past!
That's right, we made it through Army/Navy weekend and bowl season is upon us.
Rather than opine on the BCS and whether it's fair that Alabama is the one-loss team that gets a shot, I'll use this space to once again go over some rules for bowl season.
There are a handful of things to keep in mind each bowl season before making your selections, but none compare to motivation. Motivation is the reason you'll see some rather bizarre blowouts and some unexpected upsets. The key, of course, is spotting which teams are ready to play and which would rather be somewhere else.
Another factor to consider is team turmoil, which includes injuries and suspensions. This one is tricky, especially when you have to pick all your games up front. Suspensions usually come down just days before the start of a game, therefore it's impossible to guess which teams will be hit with this bug.
The last couple factors are momentum and matchups, and these are really tricky. Momentum would seem easy enough, just look at the past few games and you have your answer, right? I wish it were that easy, but the weeks between the team's final game and its bowl game can kill all momentum. The best way to proceed here is to look at the team's history or carrying momentum through to its bowl game, but only if the same coaching staff is in place. As for matchups, well you can analyze matchups until you are blue in the face, but until the rubber hits the road, you really have no idea how this will play out. It's unfortunate, I know, but I've seen too many "mismatches" turn the wrong way to put too much faith into matchups prior to the game.
Before we move onto the bowls, let's take a quick look back at the regular season selections.
For the season I ended up two games under .500 in my top two categories. Not a great outcome, but when you consider the rough start to the season, it surely isn't a bad place to end up. Details for the season are below:
Cream of the Crop: Week: 1-2/ Season: 22-30
Best of the Rest: Week: 2-3/ Season: 36-30
PASSing Thoughts: Week: 2-2/ Season: 29-41
I am keeping the same structure as last year's bowl preview with one slight change, all the games will be in one article. Games will be listed in order of play. I will keep the same format as the regular season in that I will still indicate which group each game falls into. I will do this by using the following abbreviations: Cream of the Crop = CC, Best of the Rest = BR and PASSing thoughts = PASS.
One final note - I will make at least one play on each game. It may only be the total, however. My goal is to find the best play for each game. If you want to see which side I am taking for each game, you can check out my picks along with other RotoWire staffer's here.
New Mexico Bowl
Nevada vs. Arizona: Motivation is tough to gauge in this game. It always is during the first week of the bowl season. These are the lower-tier games and the players know that. The question is, do they care? Rather than try to figure out the mindset of the players on these teams, let's just focus on the total. The number is set awfully high, but these two teams can bring it on the offensive side of the ball and neither team has much of a defense. Both teams ranked in the top-20 in points this season, and I'm sure they'll likely want to show off a bit in this one.
Total: Over 75 (CC)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Toledo vs. Utah State: Utah State returns to the Idaho Potato Bowl, and for some teams, that could be a bitter disappointment, but Utah State isn't at that level yet. Utah State will be happy to be playing anywhere during bowl season, so you can expect maximum effort. Same goes for Toledo as any MAC team is happy to go bowling. Utah State is the better team; the Aggies faced better competition this season and against some tough competition, they held their ground. Does that mean they can cover a double-digit number against a Toledo team that can effectively move the ball on offense? Toledo lost three games this season by seven points each and each of those teams are going bowling. I'll side with Toledo here and the rather large number.
Side: Toledo +10 (BR)
San Diego State vs. BYU: This game does nothing for me. Aren't these two teams in the same conference? OK, they split up a couple years ago, but it still seems like they are conference foes. Maybe that's why this game doesn't provide much intrigue, or maybe it's because there's nothing exciting about either team. BYU has a strong defense and SDSU has a well balanced attack. Yawn. This game could go either way, which is why I'm looking at the total. This should be one of those rare bowl matchups where defense reigns supreme and as such, I'll take the under.
Total: Under 49 (PASS)
St. Petersburg Bowl
Ball State vs. UCF: Both teams in this match-up spent most of the regular season beating up on their conference foes while falling to stiffer competition. It's hard to say which team plays in the better conference, but it looks like the oddsmakers think it's UCF. That or they are factoring in a large home-field advantage here as the game will be played in Florida. That is a mistake, however, as even though the game will be played in Florida, I highly doubt there will be a significant advantage in the stands, which will likely be half empty. Ball State comes in on a roll as the Cardinals have won six in a row, while UCF is coming off a tough loss in its conference title game. My guess is that motivation will be on the side of Ball State, and that combined with the momentum should be enough to cover the number here.
Side: Ball State +7 (BR)
NEW ORLEANS BOWL
Louisiana-Lafayette vs. East Carolina: It's strange that that ULL is a six-point favorite, but maybe the home-area advantage is in play. Whatever the case, I simply can't get behind a team like ULL laying six points against a team from a better conference. Sure, East Carolina probably shouldn't be bowling, but the Pirates will be hungry to get a bowl win after being shut out the last four years. Defense is optional in this one as well, so a nod to the over, but remember, just because the defenses are poor, doesn't mean the offenses can take advantage.
Side: East Carolina +6 (PASS)
Total: Over 64 (PASS)
MAACO BOWL LAS VEGAS
No. 19 Boise State vs. Washington: Boise State just wasn't the same team this season. The Broncos started the season with a tough loss to Michigan State, and although the Broncos won all but one of their games the rest of the season, there seemed to be something missing. For starters, the schedule was weaker than normal, and there weren't as many blowouts as normal. Washington started the season slowly, but ended with a nice stretch that included four wins in five games. The Huskies will be hungry in this one, and I'm giving them a slight edge while acknowledging that I'm very worried about the coaching edge on the Bronco's sideline.
Side: Washington +5 (PASS)
Southern Methodist vs. Fresno State: You probably didn't notice, but Fresno State ended the season on a major roll. The Bulldogs won their last five games all by at least 16 points. In fact, the entire season was a success when you consider that their losses came at the hands of Oregon, Tulsa and Boise State. On the other hand, SMU's season was nothing spectacular. If you were to look at the Mustangs resume you'd wonder how they made it to a bowl game, but that's what you get when there are more than 30 bowl games. Fresno State should win this game with ease and close out the season in style.
Side: Fresno State -12 (CC)
LITTLE CAESARS BOWL
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky: Both teams were completely average this season, and to be honest, neither should be bowling, but when there are ... OK, I'll stop. It is what it is, and it is hard to get behind either team here. Both teams will be motivated as neither team can complain about where it ended up, but the edge goes to CMU because WKU has lost three of its last four games.
Side: CMU +5.5 (BR)
No. 24 San Jose State vs. Bowling Green: This should actually be a pretty good matchup. Bowling Green had twice as many losses this year as San Jose State, but the Falcons had a much tougher schedule, at least a much tougher non-conference schedule. San Jose State has more firepower on the offensive side of the ball, but Bowling Green has the edge on defense. As such, I'll side with the Falcons who are getting a nice chunk here. I initially liked the under, but at 47, it's just a bit too low.
Side: Bowling Green +7 (BR)
Duke vs. Cincinnati: A couple major issues at play here. First, Duke is going bowling for the first time in a while, so motivation should be on the side of the Blue Devils. Second, Cincinnati just lost its coach to Tennessee. Considering bowl season is nothing new to the Bearcats, you have to wonder if their heads will be in this game. Cincy has a better all-around team, but Duke has enough playmakers to keep this game close. The game is also being played in North Carolina, so Duke should have the edge in the stands.
Side: Duke +7 (CC)
No. 17 UCLA vs. Baylor: If both teams show up, this could be one of the more exciting games of the bowl season. The line has already moved two points in favor of Baylor, which makes sense considering Baylor has met every challenge over the last month and some of those were pretty stiff challenges. UCLA is a solid team however, and I had a tough time picking a side. The total looks like the play in this game, and even though it will probably be 80 by game time, I still like the over. Baylor won't be denied on offense and its defense, though improved, will struggle all day with UCLA's balanced attack.
Total: Over 79 (CC)
Louisiana-Monroe vs. Ohio: Although ULM was 1-2 after its first three games, it was that start that got it noticed. A win over Arkansas and late losses to Auburn and Baylor opened some eyes, but the Warhawks could not carry the momentum through the conference schedule. Ohio also started well, but the Bobcats absolutely fell apart toward the end of the season. Neither team has any momentum heading into this game, but if both teams come in with their early-season form, I'll take ULM who hung tough with some big-name teams.
Side: ULM -7 (BR)
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL
Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers: Motivation will be at an all-time low in this matchup as I'm sure neither team thought it would be at the Russell Athletic Bowl this season. For Virginia Tech, it's been a nightmare season from the start. For Rutgers, it's been all downhill the last month. Although neither team will be excited to be here, Rutgers at least gets the chance to take down a big name. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, would probably like to pass on bowl season altogether, and though the Hokies have the talent to win this game with ease, I doubt they'll show up for this one.
Side: Rutgers +2.5 (BR)
MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL
Texas Tech vs. Minnesota: Don't be fooled by Minnesota's defensive rank against the pass. It's a number I've seen bandied about lately, and it's only disguising the fact that the Gophers can't stop the run and teams in general don't need to pass on them. We'll get to see this in play during this game as Texas Tech has no interest in running the ball and will move the ball with ease through the air all night long. Minnesota shouldn't be bowling this season. The Gophers got fat off a horrible non-conference schedule and took down the worst that the Big Ten has to offer, but when faced with stiffer competition, they failed big time.
Side: Texas Tech -13 (CC)
ARMED FORCES BOWL
Air Force vs. Rice: Rice is in a bowl game? The team that started 2-6? Yes, it's true, with four consecutive wins to close the season, Rice, at 6-6, is in a bowl game. Now, this isn't the same Air Force team that we've gotten used to over the years, but come on, you're telling me the Falcons can't beat Rice? The line is virtually a pick 'em also. I just don't get it, maybe there is something I'm missing. Oh well, I'll dive in head first here and take Air Force with no hesitation.
Side: Air Force -1 (CC)
Syracuse vs. West Virginia: This is one of a handful matchups during bowl season that look like conference games, but due to some realignment, they are now bowl eligible matchups. That doesn't do anything to make this game more interesting, but what does make this game intriguing is West Virginia's inability to stop anyone outside of Kansas. West Virginia's offense was slowed only twice this season, and I don't expect there to be a third time this season, And the Orange have put up plenty of points against just about everyone this year, so the over looks like the play. The number is in the low-70s, but I would expect this one to rise as the game gets closer.
Total: Over 73.5 (CC)
FIGHT HUNGER BOWL
Arizona State vs. Navy: Just like Air Force is not the team we've become accustomed to, same goes for Navy, which just isn't that strong this year. If you needed confirmation of that, just watch tape of the Army-Navy game. The only question is whether ASU shows up. If the Sun Devils come to play, they should win this game with ease. With a few weeks to prepare, the Sun Devil defense should have plenty of answers for Navy's option attack. In years past, the additional time to prepare did little for Navy's opponents, but again, that's back when the Midshipmen had a more potent attack.
Side: ASU -14 (PASS)
No. 13 Oregon State vs. No. 23 Texas: One team failed to meet expectations this season while the other blew away pre-season projections. Motivation is certainly in the corner of OSU, but the game is being played in Texas, and I dare say the Longhorns will do what they can to avoid embarrassment. Now, whether that results in a win is the question. I really don't like this game much, as neither team looked sharp in its final regular season game, but if I'm forced to pick a side, I'll take Texas and the small number of points.
Side: Texas +2 (PASS)
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
Michigan State vs. TCU: A disappointing season for these two teams as both came in with high expectations and both failed to live up to them. The reason behind those failed expectations were completely different, though. For MSU it was a series of close games during the conference season, most of which went the wrong way. Blame can be placed squarely on the passing game as the Spartans defense and ground game were solid all year. TCU's season began to fall apart when its starting QB was suspended early in the year. The Horned Frogs played admirably the rest of the way, but in the end, they lacked that extra gear that pushed them into a BCS bowl game previously. As much as I hate to do it, I'm going to take the under. As you know, I hate going under any total in the low-40s, but I'll make an exception when there are two solid defenses in play. Add to that, MSU's one-dimensional offense and I think you've got a very low-scoring affair.
Total: Under 41 (BR)
MUSIC CITY BOWL
Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State: It's fairly common to see a team without a head coach during the bowl season, but it's not often that the coach is missing because he was fired. That's the case with N.C. State, however, as coach Tom O'Brien was let go after the regular season. I can only guess that the powers that be weren't too pleased with the Music City Bowl invitation this season. I also have to assume the players for N.C. State will be less than thrilled with their current situation. On the other sideline sits Vanderbilt, which must be very pleased with how things turned out this season. The Commodore players probably wished for a bowl game, say, in California or Florida, but playing in front of the home fans might not be so bad either. Two teams heading in different directions here, I'll take the team heading the right way.
Side: Vandy -7 (CC)
Georgia Tech vs. USC: Georgia Tech surprised the entire nation by hanging with FSU for nearly 60 minutes, but I don't think that we should expect to see that Yellow Jackets team again this season. Georgia Tech was very mediocre this season, and the fact that it caught a good FSU napping in the ACC championship is nothing more than a fluke. USC can't be all that happy to end up in the Sun Bowl, but after a year full of disappointments, perhaps the Trojans and Matt Barkley can finish on a high note. Here's the number that swayed my opinion on this game, though: Georgia Tech is 0-4 in bowl games under Paul Johnson. Considering that Johnson runs a gimmicky offense I can only assume that oponents, when given enough time to prepare, can slow this offense with little problem. USC is laying a big number, but given Georgia Tech's propensity for throwing in the towel this season, I can see this one getting out of hand early.
Side: USC -10 (BR)
Tulsa vs. Iowa State: Here's the good news for Tulsa - it's facing an Iowa State team that's only here because of an error in judgment by the folks who run the Louisiana Tech football program. Now the bad news - Iowa State isn't all that bad. Now the really bad news - for everyone involved, these teams already played each other! Opening week of the season, Iowa State beat Tulsa, 38-23. Sometimes rematches are intriguing during bowl season (see the national championship game last year), but I dare say no one wanted to see these teams square up again. I take that back, perhaps Tulsa wants another crack at the giant that is Iowa State. The Cyclones are at a point in their program where any bowl game is going to be exciting, but I can't imagine the players are going to be jacked up for this game. On the other side, Tulsa is not only seeking revenge, but it has the little brother chip on its shoulder because the Hurricanes are representing C-USA. With two seemingly evenly matched teams, I'll take the one with more to prove.
Side: Tulsa even (BR)
No. 8 LSU vs. No. 14 Clemson: This should be one of the more interesting matchups this bowl season. On one side you have a Clemson team that played really well all season and avoided the dreaded letdown all season. On the other side you have an LSU team that appeared to get better as the season wore on. At least, the offense seemed to improve later in the year. Although Clemson managed to stave off a classic Clemson-style letdown this season, the Tigers did fail to beat two of their better opponents in South Carolina and Florida State. I look for a similar outcome here as LSU's defense will prove troublesome for Clemson's offense, while its offense will continue to improve.
Side: LSU -4 (CC)
No. 20 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State: I was shocked to read the Wildcats have dropped nine consecutive bowl matchups. That's unheard of, well, I think it is. How do you lose nine in a row? Now, not all nine came under the current regime, but it can certainly take some of the blame. The problem for Northwestern is that the Cats have often encountered some pretty solid teams during the bowl season, and although that's no excuse for losing nine in a row, that's certainly explains how this streak came to be. It's not like they've been blown out in these games, though, the Cats usually show up, they just can't close, which is also the story of their 2012 season. All that changes this time around, though, as the Northwestern finally gets a team that's just OK in Mississippi State. A team that seems to be heading the wrong way as the Bulldogs have dropped four of their past five games. Sure, four of those games were against stiff competition, but it's hard to shake off the stench of losing.
Side: Northwestern +2 (BR)
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
Oklahoma State vs. Purdue: How in the heck did Purdue end up playing on New Year's Day? Well, let's see, the Boilermakers beat Iowa, Illinois and Indiana to close out the season. They also beat Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Marshall earlier in the year. Does anyone see a quality win there? Neither do I. They also canned their coach after the regular season. I guess the folks that run the Purdue football department have higher standards than those in charge of the Heart of Dallas Bowl. You know there's something wrong with one of the teams when there is a line as high as this one. Someone made an egregious error. I am not sure if Purdue was locked in because of its placement in the Big Ten or if it travels well, I really don't care, this is an absolute travesty. That said, the line is rather large, and Oklahoma State often forgets to play defense, but I can't in my right mind side with Purdue. Here's hoping the Cowboys show up for this one and it turn this into the laugher that it's destined to be.
Side: Oklahoma State -16.5 (BR)
Total: Over 70 (BR) (just in case the OSU defense doesn't show up)
No. 10 South Carolina vs. No. 18 Michigan: I'm really torn on this one. On the one hand, you've got two evenly matched teams with a spread of five points and five points in a game like this can be huge. On the other hand, it's the SEC vs. the Big Ten, and I promised myself after the non-conference portion of the schedule was over that I would not forget just how bad the Big Ten looked. It's easy to forget after two months of Big Ten teams battling each other, but the non-conference portion of the schedule was horrendous for most of the Big Ten. Since I am so torn, I'm going to stick with conference supremacy and take South Carolina. As a bonus I get Steve Spurrier, who's a pretty decent coach this time of the year.
Side: South Carolina -5 (PASS)
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska: So, Nebraska is still ranked; interesting. In case you forgot, when we last saw the Cornhuskers, they were behind embarrassed by the Badgers in the Big Ten championship. We throw around the word embarrassed a lot, at least I do, but this time I mean it. That effort from top to bottom was embarrassing. It's difficult to get that game out of my head when trying to predict the outcome here. Logically, this game should be a blowout. Nebraska is overmatched in every aspect of this game. The Cornhuskers had no answer for a one-dimensional Badgers attack, how in the heck are they going to stop Georgia's offense? The answer is - they won't. The only thing that can possibly keep this game close is a Bulldogs hangover from the SEC championship, which is entirely possible. But I'm willing to bet that Georgia will be ready for this one.
Side: Georgia - 10 (CC)
No. 6 Stanford vs. Wisconsin: Hmm, Nebraska is ranked and Wisconsin isn't, a lot of thought must go into those ballots. Anyhow, tough spot for Bucky here as head coach Bret Bielema has gone onto, ah, different pastures and the frozen head of Barry Alvarez will be thawed out to lead them into battle. My guess is that everything Wisconsin had went into its game against Nebraska. It's not that the Badgers won't be up for this game, they most certainly will, but what I'm saying is, I think they peaked and we shouldn't expect anything near that effort in this game. Stanford, on the other hand, is peaking as it heads into this game, and what the Cardinal have to offer, a strong defense and a multi-dimensional offense, will make it very difficult for Wisconsin to succeed. I made light of it a moment ago, but there is a reason Wisconsin is not ranked. The Badgers did not have a strong season, they benefitted from teams in front of them being ineligible for the postseason, which allowed them the chance to beat that pathetic Nebraska squad. I think the real Badgers team shows up here and Stanford claims the Rose Bowl.
Side: Stanford -6.5 (CC)
No. 12 Florida State vs. Northern Illinois: Let me start by saying, I am not in the camp that is upset about Northern Illinois crashing the BCS. If anything, Louisville should have been on the outside looking in rather than Northern Illinois. But as it is, both teams are in and Oklahoma is out, which is fine by me because it created a great matchup with Texas A&M; we'll get to that in a bit. As for this game, all signs point to a blowout. Northern Illinois did many things well this season, but the Huskies attack is based on an athletic QB who likes to run as much as pass and that's just not going to work against this FSU defense. Another problem facing Northern Illinois is the fact that FSU just about slipped up against Georgia Tech in the ACC championship. You can bet that the players got an ear-full from the coaching staff after that game, and they're not about to let up again.
Side: FSU -13.5 (CC)
No. 3 Florida vs. No. 21 Louisville: Another potential clunker here as Florida faces the Big East, ahem, champ. Louisville earned its way in after beating Rutgers, 20-17, during the final week of the season. Hmm, that didn't sound right. Louisville earned its way into a BCS game, by beating RUTGERS! What is wrong with this system? I think we've focused far too much on the national championship game over the years instead of the bottom of the BCS, and we are paying the price this year. I know, I just said I was OK with Northern Illinois being included, but that's because it's a fresh face, and one that at least handled its own conference. Louisville lost to Syracuse and Connecticut in the final weeks of the season. So I'm guessing you know which way I'm going. Florida wasn't exactly a juggernaut over the final month of the season, but the Gators had their fair share of impressive victories and this will be another one. Not because of the opponent, but because of the manner in which they'll dispose of their opponent.
Side: Florida -13.5 (CC)
No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State: Finally, a BCS game worth the wait. With a couple weeks left in the regular season, this was the game we were all waiting for. Of course, a lot changed during one fateful Saturday, and though these two teams are still going against one another, there's not nearly as much at stake. That shouldn't take away from this game, though, as it should be a great one. Although Oregon did not have enough to hold off Stanford late in the season, I still think the Ducks are operating at a high level. They demolished a pretty good Oregon State team to close the season, and I think the sting of their one loss has already worn off. Kansas State seems like a different team than it was halfway through the season. That Baylor loss shed some light on the how to beat KSU, and I think Oregon will take full advantage. I can't put my finger on it, but even though KSU covered its final game against Texas, I had an uneasy feeling for most of that game. Almost like, if something were to go wrong, say a turnover, the game would get away from KSU. That didn't happen, in fact, the opposite happened as MSU got the big turnover in the second half and ended up cruising, but I can't shake that feeling that the Wildcats were a play or two away from blowing it.
Side: Oregon -9.5 (BR)
No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma: This could end up being the most entertaining game of the bowl season and not just because of "Johnny Football," but because these two teams can light up the scoreboard. This game appears to be a coin toss as you never know which Oklahoma team is going to show up. If the good one shows up, I think the Sooners can win this game. If not, it could be a long night. Either way, the offense has been pretty reliable this season and the Sooners should put up a good amount of points. Can they slow down Johnny Football? Seeing as how only one team did that all year and it happened to be a pretty solid LSU defensive unit, I'm guessing no. You see where I'm heading here, right? Points, points and more points. The number is in the low-70s, and there's no reason to think these teams can't get there. The only scenario in which they don't is a blowout, but again, I don't see that happening with these two highly skilled offenses.
Total: Over 71.5 (CC)
Ole Miss vs. Pittsburgh: And it's all been leading up to this moment. All the garbage you had to endure the last few weeks is worth it now that you get Ole Miss and Pittsburgh. I'm trying, I'm trying to make this game interesting, but I still don't understand why these games are played between BCS games. I realize it's a money thing, or TV, or whatever, but why not play in the second week of December before all the other bowls start? You'd have a slot to yourself and not everyone would be bowled-out at that point. Anyhow, they are playing this game and well, that's about all I have to say about it. Seriously, Pittsburgh showed flashes this season, but we have to remember those flashes were within the Big East, with the exception of Notre Dame. Ole Miss may get kicked around in the SEC, but it's still an SEC team. I'm sticking with conference superiority and the Rebels.
Side: Ole Miss - 3.5 (BR)
No. 25 Kent State vs. Arkansas State: I've looked at this game from many different angles, and I can't find one that makes a convincing argument either way. Both teams were very efficient within their conferences, but Kent State was the only one that beat a ranked team. Arkansas State had a much tougher non-conference slate, though, and represented itself fairly well. Kent State comes in off a loss, while Arkansas State has won seven in row. Kent State has a balanced attack, while Arkansas State likes to air it out. Arkansas State has more impressive numbers, but those number were built during the Sun Belt conference season. You see, there's nothing here. I can't even decide on the total as Kent State has a decent defense, but it just surrendered 47 points. In situations like these, it's best to just take the points, which is what I'll do here.
Side: Kent State +4.5 (PASS)
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama: I'm going to start with this - I don't believe in all that "team of destiny" garbage. Some would say that the Fighting Irish fit that mold because of all the close calls they've had this season, but I see it a different way. Given enough time, Notre Dame would eventually lose one of those games, and I'm not talking about 50 games from now. I'm saying that if the season were another couple games, they would lose. It's the sign of a team that's not quite as good as their record indicates. Now, there aren't a couple more games left, just one, so can they hold out for one more game? A few weeks ago I might have said no way, but I'm not so sure now, and it has nothing to do with powers we don't understand. It has to do with a very strong defense and an Alabama team that's not nearly as invincible as it once seemed.
You see, there are two Alabama teams out there. One version plays down to its opponents and looks beatable on defense and shaky on offense. It's the version we saw for nearly three quarters against Georgia and nearly 60 minutes against LSU. Keep in mind, though, only the highest of quality teams can bring out this version of Alabama.
The other version is smothering on defense and a force of nature when running between the tackles. I call this version, "desperation Tide." It's only pulled out when absolutely necessary and we witnessed it three times this year, twice it was successful and once it was not, mainly because it was activated too late in the game. The point is, there's no way to tell if Alabama is going to bring its best game from the start and even if the Tide rolls early, will they keep the pedal to the metal?
To be honest, there are too many questions surrounding this year's Bama squad to lay this big of a chunk. I'm not thrilled about fading Alabama here, but I think it's the right play. Notre Dame has the defense to slow down Bama's ground game, and the Tide's defense has proved beatable at times this season. It might take just a play or two from Notre Dame to make things interesting, and we've seen time and time again this season that when pushed, Bama is capable of winning, but not necessarily of pulling away.
Although I'm taking Notre Dame and the points, I must admit that it's only because I feel the need to take a side. The best play is the under as I think this game comes down to a couple key plays. Which side makes them? I wish I knew.
Side: Notre Dame +9.5 (PASS)
Total: Under 42 (BR)