NFL & College Football -- Weekend's Best Bets

When it comes to college football, I'm not a staunch traditionalist. I believe the season is more compelling when the longtime powers are strong (Translation: Texas, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Miami all being mediocre is, to me, a bad thing.), and yet I picked Boise State before the season to win the title.

I love the old bowl system, when there were far fewer conference tie-ins and it was basically the wild, wild West to go sign up teams to come to your bowl (Point of parliamentary procedure: I did go to Notre Dame, so under that system we usually had a New Year's Day bowl destination by Halloween.), and yet I'd love to see a college playoff of some sort.

So where do I come out on conference championship games? Like them, dislike them? Actually, I love them! To take it a step further, Conference Championship Saturday has replaced New Year's Day for me as the single best college football watching day.

Why?

Well, it's easily the closest thing to the old-school New Year's Day deluge of football that we used to experience when the bowl system was only moderately flawed (as opposed to the disorganized, oversaturated, corrupt cesspool that it's become). Remember how New Year's Day consisted of gorging on mountains of food and drink while you took in 13 hours of football -- an undercard of middle-high tier bowls in the morning and early afternoon, followed by the Rose, Fiesta, and Cotton Bowls mid-day and then the main event Orange and Sugar Bowls at night?

It was like Wrestlemania meets Thanksgiving meets football. It was awesome.

Now all the bowls are scattered into the first two weeks of January, there are lower-tier bowls played in the second week of January, and there are simply too many bowls. For the "undercard, mid-day, and main event" format, with games that all have something on the line, this Saturday is now it. And next season we'll add Big Ten and Pac-12 title games to the mix (and lose the Big XII title game, for now). Good times.

And for the record, the furthest things from the old New Year's Day deluge of games? Whatever it is we have now. The Cotton Bowl is being played on January 7. If you're over the age of 25, and that doesn't make you cringe, you have no soul.

Now here are some picks to help supplement your holiday shopping scratch....

Washington -6 over WASHINGTON STATE

I've been anti-Jake Locker all season long, and honestly it's not really even his fault. Jake Locker is not the one who continually puts himself in the top 10 in mock drafts for 2011, despite having never played in a bowl game and, other than knocking off average USC teams in back to back years, never really having won a big game, period. Part of me wants to see the Cougars beat the Huskies just to see if Locker can continue to let a lack of achievement bounce off of him like bullets off of Superman's chest; the other part...well, the other part thinks it's insane Washington is only laying six points. The mercenary in me wins, as usual.

Utah State +38 over BOISE STATE

I don't know what the gambling manifesto rules say about a team laying over five touchdowns to a slightly frisky team (Utah State nearly beat Oklahoma early in the season and stayed within 14 of Nevada in Reno) the week after your season outlook went from "possible national championship" to "Bowl named after a slogan" (Fight Hunger Bowl? Wuh?), but I'll take the 38 points and hope for a letdown. Also, has Boise beefed up security for Kyle Brotzman a la Cleveland for the return of LeBron? (Darren Rovell estimates that Brotzman's two shanked field goals cost Boise roughly four million dollars, which makes my fender bender at age 16 and the three windows I broke as a kid look like chump change in the "I can't believe how much this kid is costing me" Hall of Fame.)

UCF -9 over SMU

In December 2001, George O'Leary was fired by the University of Notre Dame after five days on the job for lying on his resume. At the time it was the right decision; if he lied about the number of yards he rushed for at University of New Hampshire back in the `60's, that's one thing. He lied about having a Master's Degree. Not gonna work, not at Notre Dame. Now look at the names O'Leary replaced and was succeeded by at Notre Dame -- Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis. I just think it's funny (but as an ND alum not "ha ha" funny) that until the Brian Kelly hire, the closest thing they've had to "getting it right" was O'Leary, who has made Central Florida a solid non-AQ player. O'Leary versus June Jones is the second most intriguing coaching matchup this weekend behind the Youngstown Title match between Bob Stoops and Bo Pelini.

Texans +8 over EAGLES

If someone had told you two years ago that Michael Vick (in prison at the time) would be playing elite-level quarterback in Philadelphia, getting ready to take on NFL leading rusher Arian Foster (in an injury-marred final year at Tennessee playing for Phil Fulmer, which was probably somewhat prison-like at the end) and the Houston Texans.....

DOLPHINS -4.5 over Browns

Marlins beat the Indians in 1997. The Heat swipe LeBron and come to town tonight for the Lyin' Ling's return. Do the Dolphins complete the "Hey Cleveland, you're our bitch" sweep? I say yes.

Rams -3.5 over CARDINALS

Fun thing about playing division foes twice -- when the games are spread out far enough, you can really use the spread as an indicator of how teams have progressed (or regressed) during the season. Case in point -- in Week One, the Cardinals were a 3.5 point favorite in St. Louis. The Rams were starting a rookie quarterback and the Cardinals were one season removed from being two minutes away from a Super Bowl win. Now in Week 13, Sam Bradford has exceeded expectations, Derek Anderson is six days removed from an all-timer of a rant ("That's fine, that's fine, that's fine, that's fine, that's fine....."), and the Rams all of a sudden are the 3.5-point road fave. And you know what? I like them in this spot.

Last Week: 3-3
Season Record: 43-28-1


Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.



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