The picks column: Every game counts - and still will

semerson@macon.comNovember 23, 2012 

ATHENS - There are those pointing to the events of last week and saying such moments will be lost in the coming playoff system. Games won't have as much meaning. Consider it the last gasp of the playoff opponents.

Phooey on them. Phooey twice and three times over. (And yes, "phooey" is the correct gramattical term.)

First off, as great as last Saturday night was to watch, unless you were an Oregon or Kansas State fan, there will be just as much excitement when the four-team playoff comes. For instance, during the national semifinals and final.

But those saying that the regular season will suddenly have less meaning are also thinking too simplistic. Such moments will continue to happen as teams scramble to be among the four teams. Or eight teams, when inevitably it gets to that point. But just staying at four for the sake of this argument, imagine if it were in place this year: Oregon and Kansas State might have very well burned their shot at the semifinals. Two teams on the outside - Florida, LSU and others - would have been watching with even more interest last Saturday, realizing their shot to get in the semifinals was at stake. The implications of Kansas State's loss probably would have been just as dire.

The problem for those who cling to the notion of a two-team playoff is that they conveniently forget the excitement that exists in other sports - yes, even during the regular season. March Madness isn't just the 68-team NCAA tournament. It's bubble teams trying to play their way in, and conference championship games pitting teams where the winner gets the golden NCAA bid, and the loser is done. And contrary to some people's opinion, the NFL regular season isn't one slog before the playoffs: But even it were so, the NFL playoffs are pretty great too, and they involve 12 teams.

That all said, college football will continue to preserve the most meaningful regular season in American sports. You're talking about four teams, out of 120, making the playoffs. Expand it to eight, and that's still one out of 15 teams making the playoffs. I'd say that makes every game count.

On to the picks:

GEORGIA TECH at GEORGIA (-14): This has some dangerous elements for the Bulldogs. The Yellow Jackets are racking up the points lately and have gotten a bit better on defense since axing Al Groh. And the triple-option is the great equalizer. But the fact Georgia already faced it last week should make this a safer bet for the Bulldogs. It may not help them heading into the SEC championship, but that's a problem for another week. Pick: Georgia covers.

AUBURN at ALABAMA (-34): That guy who protested at the airport after Gene Chizik was hired was still right. And I never thought he was wrong. We all know the "without Cam Newton" track record now for Chizik. Add an NCAA investigation, which for the record is now two in four years with Chizik in charge, and I think we all know the way this will and should end. Pick: Alabama covers.

LSU (-13.5) at ARKANSAS: Les Miles, you wonderful man, never change. Just, never change. Pick: Arkansas covers, LSU wins.

MISSISSIPPI STATE at OLE MISS (even): This game has some very sneaky, intriguing qualities to it. If Hugh Freeze can beat the arch rival and get bowl eligible in the same game, the rookie coach may get a contract extension through 2044. But I'll go with the visitors, based on events of last week, which lead me to believe MSU is a decent team, while the Rebels are running out of gas. Pick: Mississippi State wins.

MISSOURI at TEXAS A&M (-16.5): Hey, remember when Missouri and its dual-threat quarterback were a threat to do some damage in their SEC debut season, while Texas A&M and its no-name quarterback would be eaten alive by the SEC West? Let's all remember that next year when we're making sweeping preseason predictions we are extremely sure about. Pick: Texas A&M covers.

FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE (-7): The folks are turning this one into a possible national title play-in game. The folks in Tallahassee are incredulous the Gators are getting more mention for the BCS title game and are higher-ranked. The folks in Tallahassee are wrong. The folks in Tallahassee need to think hard about getting out of their conference if they want to have their resume' taken more seriously in future years. Pick: Florida State covers.

SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON (-4): Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney spent most of the past year taking verbal shots at each other and their programs. Then the time for their actual game week arrived, and they got all nice. Well, that's no fun. That's why I'm going to drop a nice coaching rumor in my next pick. Pick: Clemson covers.

KENTUCKY at TENNESSEE (-14): One of these two programs should think hard about calling Rex Ryan, who either may be available soon or whose New York Jets may not fight hard to keep. Ryan has the personality to inject some life into a program that needs it, (especially Kentucky), and he has the credibility to go with it. Plus, the continued absence of Ralph Friedgen leaves open a fat man slot in college coaching. Pick: Kentucky covers, Tennessee wins.

NOTRE DAME (-6) at SOUTHERN CAL: The temptation is great to pick USC, which is playing at home, and the Fighting Irish seem ripe for an upset. But the absence of Matt Barkley, and the apparent implosion occuring under Lane Kiffin's watch, make it hard to pull the trigger. But again, it's tempting. Pick: USC covers, Notre Dame wins.

MICHIGAN at OHIO STATE (-4.5): In researching and breaking down this one, I turned to my lovely wife (La Profesora, Michigan Class of '00), and received this feedback: "Ohio State is lame." Good enough for me! Pick: Michigan wins.

VANDERBILT (-8.5) at WAKE FOREST: The SEC coach of the year is likely to be Kevin Sumlin, but dang, you have to marvel at what James Franklin has done at Vanderbilt so far. Pick: Wake Forest covers, Vanderbilt wins.

The rest:

Oregon State covers, Oregon (-13) wins
North Carolina (-23) covers Maryland
Virginia Tech (-10) covers Virginia
Miami (-3) covers Duke

Last week: 9-6 vs. spread, 11-4 overall.

Season: 78-86 vs. spread, 121-44 overall.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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