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Friday, 2 December 2016

College Football Week 14 Picks 2016 (December 2-3)

Last week was 'Rivalry Week' and this week it is 'Championship Week' as the College Football regular season comes to a close barring the Navy-Army game of next week. At the end of this week we are going to see the College Football Top Four and the teams that will enter the Play Offs to determine the National Champion.

One place has been assured with the Alabama Crimson Tide in regardless of how their SEC Championship Game goes, but there are some questions about the other three participants. The Clemson Tigers and Washington Huskies have to be considered as likely to get in if they win their Conference Championship Games, but the doubts are over the Big Ten Champion.

It is Wisconsin v Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Ohio State Buckeyes are considered the best team in the Conference and it is hard to see the Ranking committee ignoring their presence as a one loss team compared with either the Badgers or Nittany Lions who have had multiple losses. However the committee have made it clear how much stock they put into Conference Champions so you have to imagine they are cheering for one of the other two potential Champions, Clemson and Washington, to fail to close the deal.

This is all going to lead to more people perhaps talking about the Play Offs being expanded to include eight teams rather than four. Personally I am not sure that is oversaturating the pull of the Play Offs, but this year the likes of Michigan, USC and Oklahoma could join Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Washington and Penn State/Wisconsin to make an exciting eight team Play Off but this feels like a special year where the Big Ten Champion clearly doesn't look the best team in that Conference.

There is clearly a set way the committee decides the Rankings because I would have a very different four team line up if it was down to the eyeball test over the last month of the season. Ohio State and Alabama would be in, but there might not be a hotter team in the nation than the USC Trojans, while the Oklahoma Sooners are unbeaten in their own Conference and have a long winning streak behind them too. The Sooners could potentially crash the Play Offs but they need to beat their rivals Oklahoma State and then hope both Washington and Clemson lose their Championship Games and perhaps even Wisconsin beating Penn State.

A guess now would be that Alabama, Clemson, Washington and, controversially, Ohio State will be put into the Play Offs regardless of what happens in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Week 13 was a little up and down for the picks and I was disappointed with how they went down. There are not as many games this week as we had last week but the picks will begin on Friday night and cover the Saturday games.

Washington Huskies v Colorado Buffaloes Pick: How can you be anything but impressed with the way the Colorado Buffaloes have played this season as they surprisingly won the Pac-12 South to earn a spot in the Championship Game to be played in Levi's Stadium on Friday night. The Buffaloes have shown they can play as an underdog and win games, but this is another big test for them when they take on the Washington Huskies who have a Conference Championship and the College Football Play Offs on their minds.

Neither team has ever been in this spot before which should mean nerves on both sides of the field, but the Washington Huskies have rightly been favoured to win the game.

The spread has certainly been moving in favour of the Huskies even though they are only narrowly favoured by the public which suggests the sharp money is on them in this Friday night game in Santa Clara. With the powerful Offense possessed by Washington and a Defensive unit that have shown heart through injuries, I can't say I blame anyone who has been backing Washington this week.

The Huskies have bounced back from their only loss of the season against the USC Trojans to wipe out the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Washington State Cougars, although they had to thank their Defense for some 4th and Goal stops in the win last week over rivals Washington State. The Defensive Line will believe they can give Washington a shot to win this game by shutting down Philipp Lindsay at Running Back and forcing Colorado to risk winning this game through the air.

Sefo Liufau has shown he can do that Quarter Back with some big numbers in recent games and the Washington Huskies Secondary have been guilty of giving up some big plays. However they have played better passing teams than the Buffaloes although I do think Liufau will have some nice passes in this one.

The problem for the Quarter Back is going to be if he is constantly in third and long with Lindsay likely to be stifled. At that point the Huskies have shown they can still generate a pass rush and take down the Quarter Back and it might lead to mistakes when throwing into the Secondary or drives to stall and having to settle for punts or Field Goals.

Washington should feel much more confident in what they can do Offensively because the Colorado Defensive Line has begun to show some wear and it might mean the Huskies are a more balanced Offense than the Buffaloes. Myles Gaskin should be able to establish the run against a Defensive Line that has allowed 5 yards per carry over their last three games and that will open things up for Jake Browning at Quarter Back.

Running the ball will slow down the pass rush that Colorado can generate and also perhaps ease the pressure on Browning who has been guilty of one or two mistakes throwing the ball in recent games. Whether that is down to the pressure of trying to take Washington into the Play Offs is up for debate, but Browning has shown he can move the chains with his arm when necessary and overall it feels like Washington will have the Colorado Defensive unit perhaps second guessing themselves.

I do have so much respect for the way Colorado have played this year and they are 10-2 against the spread and 5-0 against the spread as the underdog which makes it hard to oppose them. However Washington do look a little better on both sides of the ball and I think that will ultimately show up in what can be a win by around ten points for the Huskies and winning the Pac-12 Conference.

Temple Owls @ Navy Midshipmen Pick: This is the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, but instead of a neutral field it is going to be played at the home of the team with the best record. In this case it is the Navy Midshipmen who get that benefit, but I can't help feel the Temple Owls are being underrated here.

Maybe not by everyone though- while Navy are being supported hugely by the public having only three points to cover, the Owls have received the 'sharp' support with the number coming off the key number three the last few days. That says a lot about where the smart money is going and I do have to say that this Temple Defensive unit is more than capable of bringing a title home.

No one is going to dispute how good Navy have been this season and the Midshipmen are very disciplined which means they won't beat themselves in any game. They have some very good wins under their belt and Will Worth has done an exceptional job at Quarter Back despite beginning the season as the back up. We all know what Navy want to do too as does every team in the nation and it will be up to the Temple Owls to show they can limit the effect of the triple option rushing Offense they are facing.

The Owls Defensive Line is amongst the best and they have had success against other teams that run that Offense, although Navy might be the best at doing that. That battle at the line of scrimmage can dictate so much of how this game is going to develop, but Temple have shown they are very tough up front and I do think they can have some success even if Navy will also get their numbers on the ground.

Temple produce plenty of penetration up front and that has helped the Secondary show some strong numbers. The Owls are not likely to turn the ball over too many times, but they can play well enough to force some punts from their opponents and that gives them a chance to spring the upset in Week 14.

While there are some question marks as to how Navy will do against a very good Temple Defensive Line, I am not seeing the same issues on the other side of the ball. The Navy Defensive Line has allowed teams to establish the run and I think Temple have success even though Ryquell Armstead has been ruled out with an injury from the win over East Carolina in Week 13. Armstead has some big numbers, but Temple still have leading rusher Jahad Thomas and I very much expect Temple to earn some big yards on the ground.

It also looks an opportunity for Phillip Walker, despite some limitations he might be feeling, to make some plays with his arm. Whereas the Temple Secondary have been strong for most of the season, Navy's Secondary has allowed some big plays through the air and Walker could have a decent outing as long as his foot injury is not holding him back too much. Walker will have to be careful of the ball-hawking nature of the Navy Secondary but the balance on Offense and a strong Defensive Line looks to give the road team the edge in this one.

Navy have been very strong at home against the spread, but Temple are 5-0 against the spread on the road. I also like the fact that the Owls have produced when set as the underdog and I can see a close game decided by their stronger Defensive Line which can just make a few plays to slow what Navy are wanting to do. It is a shame the threes earlier this week have gone, but I will back Temple as the underdog to surprise Navy and the public with a road win for the American Athletic Conference Championship.

Oklahoma State Cowboys @ Oklahoma Sooners Pick: The Big 12 might not have a Championship Game like the other Conferences, but this is a Championship Game in Norman with the winner being crowned. The Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys both will feel they have an outside shot to get into the Play Offs if they can win this game, but ultimately the Big 12 needs help to get into that position.

Neither Mike Gundy or Bob Stoops will be thinking about their Play Off ambitions until after this game, but both will push for their teams to be involved if they are winners in Week 14. There is also some revenge on the minds of the Cowboys who were humiliated by the Sooners at home last season when trying to ruin their rival's ambitions of reaching the Play Offs in 2015.

Oklahoma State have blamed the injuries they were dealing with as a reason they were unable to challenge the Sooners as they would have wanted. There are no such excuses this year with Mason Randolph leading the way at Quarter Back with another year of experience under his belt after being gimpy in this game last season.

It won't be all up to Randolph as he can hand the ball off and allow his Running Backs to rip off big gains against this Oklahoma Defensive Line which has allowed 6.7 yards per carry over their last three games. Per carry is a big number, but the Sooners have also given up 243 yards per game on the ground in that time and the Cowboys should be able to establish the run with a healthy Randolph taking the attention at Quarter Back.

Randolph has been well protected and he should have time to throw the ball with the Sooners looking to stop the run and the only issue he has to worry about is turning the ball over. Protect the ball and the Cowboys have to feel they can move the chains up and down the field for much of the day.

The same can be said for the Sooners who have an elite set of Running Backs that have made life easy for Baker Mayfield at Quarter Back. Mayfield is another threat to run the ball, but he can hand the ball off to Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to rip off big gains as they did against the West Virginia Mountaineers. While the Oklahoma State Cowboys Defensive Line has not struggled as much as the Sooners in recent games, it won't be a surprise to see Mixon/Perine/Mayfield earning some solid numbers on the ground in this one too.

That should ease any pass rush the Cowboys are generating and Mayfield should be able to make his throws in a similar manner to Rudolph as the Defenses try to load up and stop the run. Mayfield has been guilty of a couple of bad throws in recent games and this Cowboys Secondary thrive on turning the ball over.

Turnovers are going to be huge in this game with both Offenses expected to move the chains at will. That is the 'x factor' in a game like this, but on the face of it this does seem a lot of points to give the Cowboys. Oklahoma State have taken Oklahoma to Overtime in their last two visits and won one and lost one, but covered both times against the spread. Getting a double digit start looks very appealing and the public are all over the road underdog, but this time I am going the same way.

There is never too much in terms of overall yards gained when these rivals meet in recent years and I think this one comes down to the team who has the ball last. Either way, I like the Cowboys with the points to keep this one close.

Baylor Bears @ West Virginia Mountaineers Pick: The chance of winning the Big 12 ended for the Baylor Bears a few weeks ago, but the West Virginia Mountaineers were still in contention until Week 12. A blowout home loss to the Oklahoma Sooners ended their hopes, but that doesn't mean there is nothing for the Mountaineers to play for in Week 14.

Any time a team gets to win 10 games in a single season is a considerable achievement and a win for West Virginia gives them a shot to do that before the Bowl Game. It might also persuade Dana Holgerson to ignore any advances other schools may have for him to fulfil their vacant Head Coach roles, but the bigger factor may be the embarrassing way the Mountaineers were crushed by the Baylor Bears last year which has clearly not been forgotten by the players.

It looks like a good time for West Virginia to face Baylor who have lost five in a row, and been blown out in each of the last 4. The Mountaineers might have been a little disappointed by the way they were beaten by the Sooners, but West Virginia bounced back by crushing the Iowa State Cyclones and that should have kept the confidence going to earn revenge over the Bears.

Seth Russell has gone down with an injury at Quarter Back for the Bears which has hurt them, but they have still managed to keep the chains moving with young replacement Zach Smith. The Bears can run the ball effectively in this one to keep the pressure from Smith, but I do think the Freshman will have success throwing the ball too as the Mountaineers have struggled in both aspects.

However Baylor have not been running the ball as effectively as earlier in the season with teams daring them to win with Smith's arm, while a young inexperienced player is likely to make some mistakes. The Interceptions have hurt Smith which leads into a vicious circle as he is being asked to throw the ball more than perhaps Baylor would like thank to their own Defensive struggles.

Injuries to the Running Back unit has to be a concern for West Virginia, but they were able to bring in Martell Pettaway who had a huge game against Iowa State and may be the next star here. A couple of the injured Backs may return this week, and they should help West Virginia have a very strong day running the ball against a Baylor Defensive Line that has worn down as games have progressed.

Trying to stop the run hasn't been helped by the fact that the Baylor Secondary have been giving up some huge plays and now face an underrated Skylar Howard for the West Virginia Mountaineers at Quarter Back. They have been able to get some pressure up front, but Baylor haven't been able to stop teams throwing the ball and I can see Howard having a big game at home this week. Howard must avoid turnovers which can keep Baylor in this one, but it does feel like a very good opportunity for West Virginia to punish their visitors for the blow out last year.

The last four Baylor losses have come by at least 19 points per game and I do think West Virginia have shown Offensive power to think they can pull away in this one. I will look for them to exploit Zach Smith for a couple of turnovers and those extra possessions can see the Mountaineers pull away for a big win.

Both teams will have some big Offensive moments, but eventually I will look for the Mountaineers to come through with a win by around three Touchdowns and cover this very big number.

Alabama Crimson Tide v Florida Gators Pick: The SEC Championship Game feels like a mismatch and the layers are not going against that with the Alabama Crimson Tide set as a big favourite to knock off the Florida Gators in Atlanta this weekend. It is hard to argue against that mindset, but the public seem to be behind the heavy underdog with the points and they did play a closer than expected game in the SEC Championship Game just twelve months ago.

Fading the public simply to fade the public is not going to be enough and on first glance this is a surprising amount of points given to the Gators in a neutral field game. However the Crimson Tide have looked far and away the best team in the nation at this level and I am going to back them to cover the spread in this one despite the big number I have mentioned.

Essentially the Crimson Tide need to win by four Touchdowns which is asking a lot of teams facing non-Conference overmatched opponents, let alone the SEC West giving this to the SEC East Division winners. When you look a little deeper, you can't ignore the fact that Florida have lost by 21 points to the Arkansas Razorbacks and 18 points to the Florida State Seminoles and neither team is really comparable to what the Crimson Tide bring to the table.

Injuries to the Defensive unit has to be a big concern for the Florida Gators and, even though they shut down the LSU Tigers, they have to know Alabama are capable of exploiting those vulnerabilities. There has suddenly been an issue with Florida when it comes to slowing down the rushing Offense of teams and that is where Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide can get the ball rolling and begin to punish the Gators.

Establishing the run should mean Hurts is able to make some throws from Quarter Back without a fierce pass rush in his face and I do think the Crimson Tide can have a big game Offensively. Moving the chains at will can put the pressure on the Gators to play 'keep up' with them and it is a position no team in the nation really wants to find themselves when playing the Crimson Tide.

Unlike Alabama, Florida are not likely to have too many open running lanes to expose on the ground with the Crimson Tide Defensive Line proving they are the best in the country on a weekly basis. They have given up just 2.2 yards per carry over their last three games and can force Florida to make Austin Appleby throw the ball to move the chains which is not really what they want to be doing.

Appleby might feel some pressure behind an Offensive Line which has struggled, but Alabama have shown they don't need considerable pressure to shut down the pass. I do think the Crimson Tide pass rush will get to Appleby at Quarter Back, but they also have a Secondary which has made big plays all season and I think Florida will do well to stay competitive in this one.

You can't disguise this is a big number, but Florida have shown they might not have the Offensive output to stay with Alabama and a couple of turnovers can see the Crimson Tide push clear. I do think Nick Saban has been irritated by suggestions that Alabama can lose this game and still make the Play Offs and I think he will want a more dominant win than they produced against Florida in the SEC Championship Game in 2015. They won that by 14 points, but I can see them being more ruthless in 2016 and I will ask them to cover this number.

Clemson Tigers v Virginia Tech Hokies Pick: The Clemson Tigers have to be aware that failing to win the ACC Championship Game is going to end their interest in the College Football Play Offs. That puts some pressure on them as they head to Orlando to face the Virginia Tech Hokies who have already lost three times this season and basically outlasted the North Carolina Tar Heels to win their Division and make it to the Championship Game.

This is far from an easy game for the Tigers who have bounced back from their single loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers and simply cannot afford to drop another game. Virginia Tech might not be up to the standards of previous years, but they have plenty to be positive about for their future and a win in the ACC Championship Game would be a huge shot in the arm for the entire school.

It could easily have been a different scenario for the Hokies in Week 14 if they had not dropped silly losses to the Syracuse Orange and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Take those away and they might have been considered for a spot in the College Football Play Offs with a win in this one, but instead they are preparing to build something that can eventually lead to the Play Offs and potentially National Championships.

This is a real test for the Hokies who have to put their Offense up against the Clemson Defensive unit which has played well. It is going to be very difficult for Virginia Tech to establish the run in this one and that will only increase the pressure on Jerod Evans at Quarter Back even if he has dealt with it well for much of the season.

Evans has had some problems behind this Offensive Line in recent games and the Tigers will be able to generate a pass rush that can get to him. The Quarter Back has proved to be a dynamic one who can make some plays with his legs as well as his arm, but Evans has turned the ball over a little more than he would have liked in recent games and may need his own Defensive unit to help keep this one close.

It does look difficult for the Defensive unit to get on top against the Clemson Offense which has slowly improved in each passing week this season. Wayne Gallman has to be excited seeing the Hokies Defensive Line just suffer some wear and tear over the last few weeks and the Running Back can set up Clemson and Deshaun Watson up for a big day.

Gallman is likely able to establish the run against a Virginia Tech Defensive Line which has given up 4.9 yards per carry over their last three games and that should open up some passing lanes for Watson. He has to respect how well the Hokies Secondary has played but Watson should be able to make plays from third and short spots which will give Clemson a chance to move the chains effectively in this one and eventually force some mistakes from Evans at Quarter Back for Virginia Tech.

Those mistakes should see Clemson have a chance to pull clear in this one and I do think they are the better team in this one. I will back the Tigers to show that on the field in this Championship Game and I will look for them to cover this number and move on to the College Football Play Offs later this month.

Wisconsin Badgers v Penn State Nittany Lions Pick: The biggest decision the College Football Play Off committee are going to have next week is whether the Big Ten Champion deserves to be Ranked above the Ohio State Buckeyes. If the Pac-12 is won by the Washington Huskies and the ACC is won by the Clemson Tigers, this question is going to have to be answered.

The controversy may come if Penn State were to win the Big Ten Championship Game this weekend and finish below the resting Ohio State Buckeyes whose sole loss came to the Nittany Lions. On the other hand a Wisconsin Badgers win would be easier to explain away as they were beaten by both Michigan and Ohio State during the regular season, but even then there will be some questions with the committee previously noting how much stock they put into Conference winners.

There is nothing either the Penn State Nittany Lions or the Wisconsin Badgers can do about that right now but an impressive win in the Championship Game might just swing some voters in their direction. Whoever wins this one is going to have to earn it with both Defensive units proving to be amongst the best in the Conference.

Both teams will be aware that the other wants to run the ball and the key to this game is going to which of the Defensive Lines will step up the most. I really do think the Penn State Defensive Line can do that in this one because they won't respect the Wisconsin passing game as much as the Badgers will respect what Penn State can do through the air.

Neither Secondary has really allowed too much against them and I expect that to continue in what could be a low-scoring Championship Game. When you are expecting a low-scoring game, getting the points looks the smart play and I do think the Penn State team are the more likely winners in this one. They have a little better play coming from the Quarter Back position which can make all the difference in a close game and I will be taking the points in this one and looking for the Nittany Lions to have chances to win this one outright in the Fourth Quarter.

MY PICKS: Washington Huskies - 8.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Temple Owls + 2.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Oklahoma State Cowboys + 11 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
West Virginia Mountaineers - 17.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 24 Points @ 2.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Clemson Tigers - 10 Points @ 1.91 Coral (1 Unit)
Penn State Nittany Lions + 3 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)

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