Alabama at LSU… Apologies to Auburn and Missouri, but this may be the last, best chance for someone to knock out Alabama. Les Miles is running red lights and forgetting to put on his seat belt. The LSU athletic department set “highlights” from the 9-6 Game of the Century win to “In the Air Tonight.” The Tigers are excited. Though you get the feeling Nick Saban is waiting in Tuscaloosa with a tranquilizer gun.
Since sputtering against Virginia Tech, Alabama’s offense has been flying. The Tide, with tailback talent and an efficient A.J. McCarron, have been held below seven yards/play just once in the subsequent seven games. That was to six in a 25-0 win over Ole Miss. They face a young LSU defense, with its acidity and tannins prominently on the tongue. Last year, the Tigers held 10 of its 12 FBS opponents below 3.6 yards/carry. This year, just two of eight. The Tigers have conceded eight yards/attempt to Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State this season. That happened once in 2012.
LSU has improved markedly on offense, from 75th in yards/play to six. But much of that improvement came against putrid teams. TCU, Florida and Ole Miss held the Tigers in check with good defenses. Alabama has another great one. The Tide have conceded 300 total yards just twice this year. They have held six of eight opponents to less than five yards/play. Alabama has allowed two offensive touchdowns in six games since Texas A&M. Both came when the Tide were leading by 30 or more.
Also worth noting, via Football Outsiders, Alabama is No. 1 nationally in Special Teams play and field position.
What is LSU’s best performance in conference this year? Giving up 21 in the second half to Auburn? Not pulling away from Mississippi State until the 4th quarter? Stifling Florida’s offense? Losing a shootout to Georgia? Alabama has played a much weaker slate, but has done the only thing they could do: assassinate it. The argument for LSU here is that, because it’s Alabama, they will come out like supermen. We don’t see it. Pick: Alabama (-13)
BYU at Wisconsin… Two 6-2 teams, kicking themselves over their one-score defeats. The Badgers will have a strong support contingent in Columbus. Right now, they are Ohio State’s only claim to a quality win.
BYU’s rushing attack is nowhere near what Texas made it look like. However, their passing game has been coming on strong. Taysom Hill has completed 65 percent of his passes the past five games, averaging about nine yards per attempt. Wisconsin has excellent pass defense statistics. Playing UMass, Tennessee Tech, Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa will do that for you.
Wisconsin has been excellent at home, outscoring opponents 169-16. They are undefeated in 2013 against the spread. The question here is whether BYU can shut down or hamper Wisconsin’s running game, arguably the best in the nation. BYU conceded consistent yardage to Utah State, Georgia Tech and Boise State. BYU gives Wisconsin a test. The Badgers, more physical on both sides of the ball, pass it and pull away late at home. Pick: Wisconsin (-8)
Michigan (-6.5) vs. Nebraska: Michigan stops the run and puts up yards on bad defenses. Nebraska needs to run the ball and has a bad defense. The Wolverines are much better at home. Nebraska has a backup quarterback. Bounce back win for Michigan.
Pittsburgh (+4) vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame has been creeping by, with a 5-0 record in one score games. Four by four points or fewer. Pitt is better than it looks on paper. It’s a look-ahead spot for ND with BYU and Stanford afterward. Panthers pull the upset in a big night game at home.
Virginia Tech (+7) at Miami: Virginia Tech’s defense is the best unit on the field. Miami has no Duke Johnson and no Philipp Dorsett. Frankly, they didn’t look that impressive with them. The Hokies stem the turnovers, maybe win outright.
Arizona (-1.5) vs. UCLA: Arizona is undervalued, having played five road games so far. UCLA looked weary against Colorado. Expect Arizona to run over them the way Oregon did at home.
Wake Forest (+34.5) vs. Florida State: Wake’s defense has been quite decent this year. They have looked much better at home. Florida State no longer needs to win any popularity contests. The starters need some rest. Foot off the gas, ever so slightly.
37-40-2 ATS this season. Creeping our way back to .500. Slowly.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]