Pregame Pep Talk: Championship Saturday picks, and who’s California Dreamin’

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner | Tiger Tracks on Facebook

CLEMSON – Let’s bang out some picks. By the way, I’ve got Florida State and Ohio State going to the championship game, mainly because I was a MathCounts student in school and 13 is more than 12. I know that’s complex.

No. 17 Oklahoma Sooners at No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys ~ 12 p.m., ABC

It’s hard to know what to make out of the Sooners. They looked real good in getting revenge at Notre Dame and holding off Texas Tech, but were pretty much no-shows in losses to Texas and Baylor. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have steadied themselves since September, but they have the worst individual loss of any one-loss team in the country (West Virginia, which is 4-8.) Bedlam should be a good game, though.

Brenner picks: Cowboys 35, Sooners 31

No. 25 Texas Longhorns at No. 9 Baylor Bears ~ 3:30 p.m., FOX

A tip of the cap to Baylor. Going into that Oklahoma game, I wrote that the Bears hadn’t played ANYBODY and were prone to falling off a cliff. They didn’t do that. Baylor was mighty impressive at home against Oklahoma, pummeled a reeling (but capable) Texas Tech team, and outlasted TCU on the road amidst a humbling loss in Stillwater, a place Baylor has never been successful. A win today verifies the Bears as a perfectly BCS-worthy team, perhaps in the Sugar Bowl against the SEC champion, and that would be fun. Still wary of Bryce Petty’s Heisman candidacy, though; I’m not high on Big 12 defenses at all.

Brenner picks: Bears 54, Longhorns 20

Pac-12 Championship: No. 7 Stanford Cardinal at No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils ~ 7:45 p.m., ESPN

A rematch from Sept. 21, when the game was in Palo Alto and the host Cardinal won 42-28. This is a really tough matchup to call; Stanford has the Pac-12’s best overall win in thumping Oregon, but also arguably its worst loss in Utah. Arizona State could well be a 3-loss team if the Wisconsin game goes the other direction, but you can’t sniff at wins over those Badgers, along with USC, Washington and UCLA, plus last week’s 37-point pummeling of Arizona. Go with the home-field advantage tonight; Stanford’s been iffy on the road.

Brenner picks: Sun Devils 24, Cardinal 23

ACC Championship: No. 20 Duke Blue Devils vs. No. 1 Florida State Seminoles, Charlotte ~ 8 p.m., ABC

Sorry, Dukies. Well-deserved bid to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, in all likelihood. By the way, I won’t release my Heisman ballot until after the ceremony, but I can say it’s not 100 percent finalized.

Brenner picks: Seminoles 48, Blue Devils 10

Big Ten Championship: No. 10 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, Indianapolis ~ 8:17 p.m., FOX

Maybe this writer’s in the minority … but, uh, how about some love for the Buckeyes? You think they just hand out back-to-back 12-0 seasons? Oh, right, Michigan State’s the No. 1 defense in the country and Ohio State won’t know what hit it. Right. It’s not like the Buckeyes racked up 31 and 34 points against the No. 6 and No. 7 defenses in the country. Or that OSU ran for 192 yards against Wisconsin (101.3 allowed per game) or 273 yards against Iowa (120.8 allowed per game). Or that Ohio State (No. 60 strength of schedule, per Sagarin) has won eight of 12 games by at least 18 points, whereas Michigan State (No. 61 strength of schedule) did so four of 12 games. Take your trendy Spartans pick to the market and see how many eggs you bring home.

Brenner picks: Buckeyes 37, Spartans 17

                                                             GAME OF THE WEEK

SEC Championship: No. 5 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 3 Auburn Tigers, Atlanta ~ 4 p.m., CBS

Really, really wanted to go with Mizzou here. Like other pundits, I’m not really sure what Auburn’s defense plans to do with that stable of huge wide receivers, led by Dorial Green-Beckham. Michael Sam is perfectly capable of blowing up an Auburn series or two. I’m not all pie-in-the-sky on destiny stuff, but I agree there’s an element of belief that the Auburn team I covered in 2012 had none of, and the Auburn team here in 2013 has its cup runneth over with. Missouri hasn’t faced a duo like Nick Marshall and Tre Mason, who could combine for 250 yards on the ground easily.

One other stat that may or may not have nothing to do with today: Gus Malzahn’s first coaching year at Shiloh Christian High School in Arkansas yielded a 6-6 season back in 1996. Counting that year and going forward, Malzahn registered a 115-19-1 record at the prep ranks, and has been 81-25 on a college sideline (including 20-4 as a head coach.) The man has won 81.6 percent of his games in the last 18 years, and since that 6-6 year, has never gone worse than 8-5. The man’s a winner, and Auburn was right to lock Malzahn down for the rest of this decade.

That all being said: only once has a major-conference team been eligible for the postseason, gone undefeated and not played for a national championship. That was 2004 Auburn. Only because 2004 USC and 2004 Oklahoma did the same, and (again with the math stuff), three is more than two. Somebody had to get screwed. You don’t take perfect Ohio State out of the championship game just because SportsCenter replayed a Hail Mary and missed FG return for a touchdown 1,600 times.

Brenner picks: Team of Destiny Tigers 41, SEC “East” Tigers 38

That’s it for the Pep Talk. Should be a heckuva Championship Saturday.

-AB

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