I wanted to do an NFL preview for a Sunday morning column, but I picked the wrong time to start this blog. Week 17 is just too much of a crapshoot; I made it about four games into my predictions before I got too annoyed and gave up on having a clue. I’d recap how much it sucks to make picks in Week 17, but Bill Simmons already did that, so I’ll let you go read his column if you want. Instead, I’ll go with a New Years Day bowl recap where I can gloat/express my frustration with Michigan State.
I nailed three of the four early games and the Rose Bowl on the head. Texas Tech beat 45-38 and didn’t cover the 8 point spread against Northwestern. Florida used a late TAINT against Penn State to win 36-24 in a game that played out as close as I thought it would. And Mississippi State dominated Michigan 52-14. I apparently gave the Wolverines even more credit than they deserved in picking the Bulldogs to win 31-10. In the late game, I predicted that TCU would contain Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing offense in a close win. They did just that in a 21-19 victory.
So far, so boring. I like predicting how games play out, but it’s surprisingly melodramatic. I’m a perfectionist, so I tend to dwell on the games that I missed. And of course, a day after I write an article arguing that motivation means more than I thought in bowl games, Alabama comes out and DOMINATES Michigan State in a 49-7 victory (and yes, all CAPS were necessary). Alabama was one of the eight teams I highlighted that were favored by more than a touchdown but may not, for various reasons, be motivated to play in their bowl game. I thought Alabama would come out flat – they were ranked #1 for the first half of the season before losing and were playing for a BCS bid as late as the second half of the last game of the season. On the other hand, I figured that Michigan State would play like they had something to prove after being doubted throughout the year.
Oh boy. I’m not even quite sure where to start with this one. Surprisingly, I think Michigan State did come out playing like they had something to prove. They weren’t bad by any means, but Alabama was just that much better than them. Not only did Alabama come out motivated, they may have played their best all-around game of the year. If I were a Crimson Tide fan, I’d actually be upset after this game – if they played like this for the entire season, they absolutely would have gone undefeated and played in the national championship game for the second straight year. How does Saban get his guys up for the Capital One Bowl but come out flat against South Carolina and LSU? It’s beyond me, but it just goes to show how much of a crapshoot these games are.
We’ve now played seven games between an unmotivated TD-plus favorite and a motivated underdog. Keeping with the trend I outlined earlier, the favorite has now either covered the huge spread (three times) or lost straight up (four times). As I type, Oklahoma is beating Connecticut 34-10, so it’s probably safe to chalk up a 4-4 record for the unmotivated favorites. If UCONN somehow comes back, it’s probably worthy of its own post, so we’ll deal with that then.
So where does that leave us with my unmotivated team theory? I’m sticking with it. If anything, the Alabama/Michigan State game showed that picking these games really are a crapshoot. In the future, I’ll pick Alabama – the far more talented team – for a low amount. No more being a hero: that Michigan State picked looked pretty stupid by the time I even flipped the game on at 12:15, 15 minutes after kickoff.