College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Joel Kramer
If you followed my picks last season (and God forbid, used them as your own picks), then you know exactly how painful the hit was by the end of the year. In fact, you're probably cursing me and contemplating exactly how you can dismember me without getting arrested while you stand in the welfare line.

On the other hand, if you merely decided to fade my picks last year and just go opposite, you're probably toasting me from the additional wing you've added to your home.

Well, I don't ever want to got through 2013 again, yet sadly last week was a 1-5 effort that became commonplace as last season (much like the Texans 2013) slipped away into "Bolivian" (as the great Mike Tyson would say). I can't go through that again. I won't go through that again.

So for this week's wagering pep talk, I'm bringing in the big guns. When you need words of inspiration, words to remind you that you can make it through anything if you put your mind to call on your home call on your call on your (Houston) call on....

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Fan Fighting League! Red River Shootout Edition

In the pantheon of college football rivalries, few have the combination of tradition and bitter hatred of the Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas.

(NOTE: I refuse to call it by the more politically correct Red River Rivalry, as if somehow including the word Shootout means that the irresponsible usage of guns is somehow being endorsed and encouraged by those associated with this game.)

With the State Fair as the backdrop, the Sooners and the Longhorns square off every season (usually with a way-too-early-for-most kickoff time before noon) and, more often than not, this game has some sort of impact on the national title race. For many seasons, the big-picture implications applied to both teams, but this season only Oklahoma is relevant on the national front.

Texas is clearly in rebuilding mode, and when one team has such a clear advantage over the other, it can lead to emotions boiling over. And no, I'm not talking about the players on the field. I'm talking about the frat bro douche-sters in the parking lot.

For the next Fan Fighting League installment, let's head to Dallas this past weekend where feelings were hurt and blows were exchanged...

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If You Want More Teams in the College Football Playoff, Here's What to Root For

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Some old habits are hard to break, and as flawed as the old Bowl Championship Series (affectionately referred to and twisted into juvenile alternate acronyms as the "BCS") was, it still began to consume me right about this time every college football season.

The BCS got a lot of stuff wrong, but one thing that they did get right was that they didn't release their rankings until the week around October 15, as opposed to the other polls that came out before anyone had played a game yet. (Of course, a huge element of the BCS rankings was the coaches poll that started in the preseason, so even in the parts the BCS had right, it was still laced with flaws.)

So normally, this week would be the time where we would brace ourselves and see how exactly the Harris Poll voters and the computers would effect the BCS big picture.

Now, though, we live in a brave new college football world, a world with a four team playoff, creatively entitled the "College Football Playoff." (Side bar: I'd love to see the presentation by the marketing company that came up with that name. "After weeks of deliberation, here's what we've come up with....COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF..." Cut to Bill Hancock asking his secretary if they kept the receipt for the marketing firm's hourly charges.)

So at the halfway point of the season, it's time to examine just who's eliminated, who's still in, who's got the most work to do, and most importantly, what we should all be rooting for (independent of our own collegiate affiliations) in order make this thing bigger than just four teams (which is one consensus everyone seems to agree on...this playoff needs to be BIGGER. Eight teams, at least).

So let's take a look....

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Cougars Declaw the Tigers, Get a Much-Needed Win

The Cougars tamed the Tigers to go to 3-3 on the season
The Houston Cougars have seemingly operated without a plan when on offense this season. There's been the running play. There's been a passing play and/or the QB running for his life depending on whether if the offensive line was able to make any blocks. Then there's generally been the punt on fourth and long after everything else failed.

Every now and then the defense would create a turnover, giving the offense the ball in great field position. Or there's been the timely penalty on a defensive player, giving the Cougars a first down and keeping a drive alive. And more often than not, the Cougars have had to settle for a field goal whenever getting in scoring position. The result's been lackluster play, a disappointed fan base, and the benching of quarterback John O'Korn.

The Cougars (3-3) got the 28-24 win over the Memphis Tigers (3-3) in Memphis on Saturday night. The offense, behind O'Korn's replacement, Greg Ward, Jr., showed more signs of life than it had at any time this season. The defense struggled at times -- the Tigers led 21-14 at the half. But the defense did what has become it's trademark, creating turnover after turnover -- the final fifth Memphis turnover of the night was an interception with under a minute on the clock to stop a Tiger attempt to regain the lead.

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets (Including Colts-Texans!)

John Wardell
In betting, there are weekends where you're looking to score big, where even finishing at or slightly above .500 feels like a slight disappointment, like a running back who left yards on the field.

Then there are weekends like last weekend.

Saturday was utter chaos, like the last 45 minutes of a Transformers movie combined with the Rahad Jackson scene from the climax of Boogie Nights (and yes, I just emitted a juvenile snicker typing the words "climax of Boogie Nights," sue me). Underdogs not only covering left and right, but outright winning some of these games to where, by the end of the weekend, five of the top eight teams in the AP went down, and somehow on Sunday morning, TCU and Arizona were in the top ten.

It was like a drug-induced haze, and by the time Connor Holliday was done putting up 734 yards passing in a loss to Cal, we had blacked out long ago, then on Sunday we woke up with a Horned Frog and a Wildcat on our beds.

Truth be told, it would've been less weird waking up with an actual horned frog and wildcat in our beds than seeing what we saw on Saturday in college football. And I feel fortunate. Why?

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Zapruder Analysis of the Craziest College Football Saturday Ever

Katy Perry's GameDay appearance set us up for one hell of a Saturday..
ESPN's College GameDay, the gold standard for all sports studio shows and maybe all sports shows period, took its road show this week to Oxford, Mississippi for the most important game in the recent history of Ole Miss football.

The Ole Miss Rebels, sitting on the cusp of the AP top ten, at number eleven in the country, were taking on the third ranked and universally reviled Alabama Crimson Tide (and actually Bama was number one in the coaches poll, but most of the coaches are idiots so we recognize the AP poll as the measuring stick in this space) in a shot at catapulting themselves into the College Football Playoff conversation.

As ESPN does every week on GameDay, they have one celebrity join the crew to help make predictions on all of the games that day. Usually, that celebrity a) knows at least something about football and b) has some sort of affiliation with the school hosting the show that week.

But Ole Miss? Who do you go get for Ole Miss? Exactly. Other than one of the Mannings, we all have no idea who you go get.

So ESPN shattered the mold into a thousand pieces on Saturday. They went and got musical phenom Katy Perry, whose affiliation with Ole Miss is that she was in town to watch the game because her manager is an Ole Miss alum, and whose football knowledge is ostensibly zero.

It went like this....

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Owls Defeat The Rainbow Warriors

Rice handled Hawaii's Rainbow Warriors for the win
The Rice Owls offense looked to be sleeping most of Saturday night. There'd be a three-and-out and a punt. Then a three-and-out and a punt. And on, and on. The Owls had expected a tough contest from Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, and the offense expected that the Hawaii defense would throw out multiple blitzes in attempts to confuse Rice. It was just a matter of waiting, the Owls had said earlier in the week, waiting for just the right moment, the right matchup, the right play.

The score was 7-7 at the half and 14-14 after the third quarter, the Owls having never led. But the much maligned Rice defense kept Hawaii bottled up and the Owls finally got into an offensive rhythm. Darik Dillard cranked out run after run. Driphus Jackson made some big throws to his receivers, and by the time the clocked reached zero, the Owls (2-3) had defeated Hawaii (1-4) 28-14.

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UCF's Knights Slay the Cougars, Send UH to a Losing Record

The Knights dueled the Cougars, and won
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco spoke to the press before last night's Houston versus UCF game. He boasted about UH's new stadium, and the growth of the second-year conference. He noted the multiple NCAA titles gained by the conference last season, and bragged about UCF's Fiesta Bowl victory. He loved the exposure the league gained by playing on ESPN on Thursday nights. And he thought that with schools like UH and UCF, the conference was primed for the same status as one of the five power conferences.

Then they played a football game at TDECU Stadium last night. ESPN could not have been pleased to be wasting valuable primetime programming on the game won 17-12 by UCF (2-2) over UH (2-3). There was nothing compelling about the game, nothing that stood out and shouted elite. There were no jaw-dropping plays. There was just "blah" and "eh." The Cougars finished with 331 offensive yards to UCF's 228 -- UCF's starting QB was only 6 of 18 for the night, with one completion a 52-yard touchdown pass. Still, despite it all, if UH QB Greg Ward, Jr. doesn't fumble just inches short of the goal line with under a minute left in the game, the Cougars wind up winning a game they deserved very much to lose. A game that, it's very doubtful, Aresco will be using as support for a new, better TV contract with ESPN or as proof that the conference belongs in the NCAA playoff picture.

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Joel Kramer
A 5-1 week of prognosticating is like an elite quarterback in the NFL. It can cover up a lot of future mistakes.

Two weeks ago, I put up a nice 5-1 week, and began feeling pretty good about myself, like maybe I was turning the corner and shaking a slump that had gone back to the end of the 2012 season. I actually finished last weekend, thanks to said 5-1 mark, with a 13-11 mark for the 2014 season thus far.

Nothing to go pitching my own handicapping show with, but an overall positive winning percentage, making money even after backing out the juice.

So naturally, I stifled my own momentum worse than Blaine Gabbert facing a six man blitz package, going 2-4 last weekend. Still, I sit at 15-15 overall on the season. Yes, thanks to the masking agent that was 5-1 the week before, 2-4 didn't totally snow me under on the year.

I'm still at .500. And now I need a pep talk this week, something edgier than Apollos Hester's "believe in yourself" smile factory from last week.

Instead, let's burn some boats!!!

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Fan Fighting League: Syracuse Squares Off With Notre Dame!

I attended the University of Notre Dame from the football seasons of 1987 through 1990. During that time, I saw a Heisman Trophy winner, a national championship and a lot of really good football.

In my student lifetime there, I attended every home game and sat in the student section, and since graduating, I've attended at least a few dozen more home games and sat in the regular civilian areas. So I can say, with a massive amount of experiential equity, that Notre Dame is largely (compared to other major college football crowds) a wine-and-cheese kind of crowd.

Yes, the House That Rock Built can get loud, even disruptive, under the proper circumstances, but it's never somewhere that you're fearful of engaging in any hand-to-hand combat.

Put it this way -- in what's easily been between 50 and 60 games in the stadium, I've never seen an actual fistfight, which is an astonishing streak for that much major college football, until you realize that people at Notre Dame games who get drunk are generally more the jovial or frustrated kind of drunks, not the belligerent kind.

So that's my preface for the next chapter in the 2014 Fan Fighting League -- a short donnybrook at the Notre Dame-Syracuse football game last Saturday night.

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