College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Parker Anderson via Flickr
Normally, this is the portion of the Best Bets post where I complain (or, even on a rare occasion, brag) about how I did the week before.

But this week, no complaining and no bragging, and that's for two reasons.

First, I went 3-3 for a second week in a row, so I'm settling into that meaty part of the curve where there's nothing really compelling about how I'm picking games right now. I'm just kind of muddling along at .500 and hoping for the best. (Appropriate that I live in Houston, I suppose!)

Second, this gives me a chance to embed the video of Marcus Luttrell's pep talk to Alabama in this space. Luttrell, of course, is the Navy SEAL who was the subject of the movie Lone Survivor.

Guaranteed, you will feel like a total zero for ever complaining about anything after watching this video....

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UPDATED It's Perfect Football Weather This Weekend

Just because ESPN's College Gameday isn't coming to Houston doesn't mean they're not playing football this weekend.

Update 11/21 at 11 a.m.: UH announced this morning they've moved kickoff to 11 a.m. due to weather.

The weather's supposed to be wet and stormy this weekend. Just the perfect November weather for college football teams to slip and slide in the mud while dodging puddles on the field and scrambling to retain traction. Just the right conditions for fans to travel to Rice Stadium and TDECU Stadium to watch the Rice Owls and Houston Cougars host important games. Rice kicks things off tonight, hosting UTEP at 7 (on FS1) while Tulsa comes to TDECU for a 2 11 a.m. kickoff (ESPN3) tomorrow.

It's the final home game of the season for both, and they're both hoping to put aside embarrassing losses in their last games. The Owls' (6-4) hopes of again being CUSA champs were pretty much destroyed last week after the team's 41-14 loss to nationally ranked Marshall. The Cougars (5-4), meanwhile, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, giving up a 17-14 halftime lead in a 31-24 loss to 3-6 Tulane. And while Rice can claim to be bowl eligible, the Cougars still find themselves one win short of that magical six-win bowl qualification number.

The weather might play to the Cougars' advantage as UH has seemingly abandoned its trademarked high-flying Air Raid offense for something bordering on a power run game but more often resembling a reaction-inspired mess willing to take anything a defense will allow it to take. Head coach Tony Levine has stated on occasion that the team's offensive game plan is to see what the defense does, then react, rather than to go out and dictate the play. That often leaves the scrambling offense looking for any opening to exploit, and it's not always effective.

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College Football Playoff Rankings v 4.0: Welcome to the Party, Bama

And then there were seven. Okay, maybe eight. Nine? All right, I'll draw the line at ten. Ten teams that still have mathematical hope of getting into the four-team playoff.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State, Baylor, Ole Miss, UCLA and Georgia.

Ten teams, which is way more teams than would be in the mix in a two-team BCS Title Game Era season, and nothing feels cheapened or minimized. My team (Notre Dame) is out of it now officially (Brian Kelly, with Lindsay Lohan-level decision-making in an overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday, took care of that), and yet I'm as excited for multiple games this Saturday as I've ever been.

The new playoff system has done the exact opposite of what the charlatans behind the BCS and the bowl system said it would -- it's made college football even more compelling, with a ton of games directly involving potential playoff teams, as well as games involving teams (Minnesota-Nebraska, Arizona State-Utah) that have strength of schedule implications for contenders.

In the meantime, we continue to gain awareness of the prism through which the committee views these teams and their performances. Let's look at the latest College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday night:

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Rockets Fans, Meet Your New Best Friend: Root Sports Southwest

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Tonight I will leave work after my show is over, I will settle in, fix myself a plate of whatever tasty treats my girlfriend Amy has prepared for dinner, sit down on the couch and do something that I've been unable to do since the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season:

I will watch a local Houston Rockets broadcast from the comfort of my own home!

It almost sounds weird to say it, it's been so long since I've been able to do this, and I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption. I mean... Bill, Clyde, and Bull, complemented by the dulcet tones of Kevin Eschenfelder and Calvin Murphy on the pre and post game shows.... I mean.... This is the excitement only a free man can feel!

And damn if it isn't a great game on tap tonight as well, a battle between the teams with the two best records in the league, the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies!

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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John Wardell
We interrupt this week's football picks (which I swear I'll get to, because I know you want to ride that 3-3 wave I was on last week) for a brief worshipping at the altar of Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner.

We are not even a year into Silver's tenure yet, and already he has eradicated the league of Donald Sterling, actually revealed what's in the league's bylaws and constitution publicly, and been the steward of a new media rights deal that is so lucrative that the league's biggest problem now is figuring out how to properly work in all of the new salary cap space over the next few years.

And now comes maybe his greatest undertaking yet -- the backing of legalizing sports betting in the United States.

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The Owls Win Ugly, the Cougars Lose Ugly

The Owls are getting the hang of this bowl game thing.
The Rice Owls earned a sixth straight win on Saturday afternoon. The 17-7 win over UTSA improved the team's record to 6-3 while giving the Owls a tenth straight homecoming game win. The victory also made the Owls bowl-eligible for a third straight season, something that has never happened in Rice history.

Meanwhile, across town, the team UTSA defeated to open the season, the Houston Cougars, were hosting conference foe Tulane. A win would have earned the Cougars bowl eligibility. The Cougars will have to wait for that, however, as Tulane pulled off the 34-27 upset win.

The Rice win over UTSA further solidified the Owls' status as the best football team in Houston. In years past, the Owls would have lost this game as the offense self-destructed on numerous drives. On four occasions, Rice got inside the UTSA 30-yard line, only to throw an interception, miss two field goals and fail to convert on a fourth-and-one. But the Rice defense, instead of collapsing, strengthened, putting together a dominating performance.

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College Football Week 11 Recap: We Were So Close to Utter Chaos!

Before we get to a recap of the weekend that was in college football, a brief PSA on whose opinion to listen to and whose to ignore when it comes to the expansion of the College Football Playoff from four teams to eight teams.

(SIDE BAR: It's hilarious that we haven't even been through the process for a four team playoff and everyone acts as if this glacial-speed moving decision making body is a lock to up it to eight teams in like a year or two. Keep dreaming.)

There are a lot of reasons the expansion of the playoffs makes sense. Some of them are sound reasons, like:

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Joel Kramer via Flickr
The Texans are on a bye this weekend, so in addition to taking a little vacation time in Chicago to see my kids, normally I might take a day off (and weekend off) from dropping my "recreational purposes" football knowledge on all of you (knowledge which would have emptied your pockets with an 0-6 showing two weeks ago, I know...nevertheless).

But as they say in the movie Wall Street, money never sleeps, kid! We need to go make our $800,000 in Hong Kong gold. Or hit a six team parlay on a bunch of home dogs. Same thing.

So with all due respect to the Houston Texans, I hope they have a nice vacation, but we aren't sleeping, baby! We went 4-2 last week. Positive momentum is back!!

Let's do this (granted, I will be doing this quickly, vacation style)....

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College Football Playoff Rankings, Our First Judgment Day Is Nigh

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Prior to and even after the inception of a college football playoff (which would be given the creative proper noun name of College Football Playoff), the naysayers said that expanding the postseason to four teams would cheapen the regular season, that games would become less meaningful.

And as anyone with a remote sense for the weekend to weekend drama that is college football's regular season knows, that notion was and still is utterly asinine.

Of course, the people trying to sell the erosion of the regular season's significance as some sort of justification for avoiding a playoff had a vested interest in the previous system. It lined their pockets. But the runaway freight train of cash could not be stopped. The playoff is coming, and the second week of CFP rankings along with the upcoming schedule this weekend illustrate how ludicrous the notion of the regular season's being diminished is.

First, here are the latest rankings:

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Defense Is Leading UH and Rice to Win After Win

For UH and Rice, it's all about the defense
The Houston Cougars throttled USF 27-3 on Saturday. The Rice Owls demolished FIU, getting the 31-17 win. Both teams move to 5-3 on the season and both are 3-1 in their respective conferences. It was the third straight win for UH, the fifth straight for Rice. And both teams return home for key conference games on Saturday. But the similarities do not end there.

That both teams won games they should have won is not too surprising. The Cougars seem to have recovered from some serious start-of-season hiccups that saw losses to UTSA, BYU, and UCF. The Cougars have abandoned the high-flying, pass-happy Air Raid offense that pushed the team up and down the field in quick thrusts and left defenses gasping for air. Last season's AAC Rookie of the Year, QB John O'Korn, has been benched and replaced by a quarterback, Greg Ward, Jr., who started the season as a wide receiver and is as dangerous running with the ball as he is at throwing it.

The Owls started the season 0-3, with the not-too-surprising opening losses on the road to Notre Dame and Texas A&M. The loss to Old Dominion was a bit unforeseen and the Owls, defending C-USA champs, looked unlikely to repeat. But the Owls have gotten lots of defensive players back from injuries, and the offense has kicked into gear paced by a strong running game and QB Driphus Jackson's ability to not only take off and run with the ball, but to also hit big passes to wide receivers.

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