December 5th, 2015 (11:00 AM ET)
Saturday's 3 college football picks were released a day in advance, at 2:00 PM ET on Friday.
1) Take North Carolina at +4.5 spread against Clemson for 3% of the bankroll.
When the first college football playoff poll came out in October, the Clemson Tigers were perched atop the rankings, while North Carolina was not even a blip on the radar. Quite a bit has changed since then. The Tar heels have flown somewhat under the radar this season and that makes them an incredibly dangerous team. Since an opening season loss at South Carolina, UNC has managed to rattle off 11 straight wins and have hit the 40 point mark in 7 of those contests. They have an incredibly explosive offense and a severely underrated defense this season and could pose a problem for the Tigers in this contest.
Both of these teams are incredibly similar, especially at the quarterback position. Deshaun Watson has been getting a lot of Heisman buzz this season. He is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers and their offense is clearly run through him. He is as dangerous on the ground as he is through the air as he has rushed for over 700 yards and 9 touchdowns on the season. While Watson has been getting all of the attention, UNC's Marquise Williams has had a quietly impressive season himself. He too is a dual threat QB and has more rushing yards and 1 more touchdown than Watson. Williams also has a 1000+ yard rusher in his backfield in Elijah Hood, which makes the Tar Heels offense incredibly balanced.
With these two teams being so similar, this contest could potentially be decided by turnovers and if that is indeed the case, the edge clearly resides with the Tar Heels. Clemson is -3 in turnover margin this season and much of that is because they have given the ball away 24 times on the year. In recent weeks, the issue has gotten worse, as Clemson has 10 giveaways in the past three games. On the other side, North Carolina is 9 in turnover margin largely because the Tar Heels have 24 takeaways and have been very protective of the football. Clemson survived its mistakes against Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina, but giving the North Carolina offense extra chances is something that should be avoided.
What we think is going to be surprising for some people in this contest is how easily the Tar Heels may be able to move the ball. When you look back at Clemson's schedule this season, they have not faced an offense nearly as good as North Carolina. They allowed 41 points against NC State, 32 to South Carolina and 27 to Syracuse. Those are not exactly offensive juggernauts. They did manage to pick up a win over Florida State; however the Seminoles receive somewhat of a pass due to the numerous injuries they sustained to both Dalvin Cook and their quarterbacks.
All of the pressure is on Clemson is this contest. They are "expected" to win this game and reach the playoffs. Meanwhile, not much was expected from the Tar heels. They can come into this game and play fast and loose, knowing that they really have nothing to lose since they are not expected to knock Clemson from the ranks of the unbeatens. There is also another nice little twist in this scenario as Larry Fedora's team actually has an outside shot of potentially making the playoff themselves with a win today. With Stanford beating Notre Dame last week, it opens the door for a potential shakeup in the playoffs if Clemson should falter. This game should be a war and could come down to which team holds the ball last and we wouldn't be completely shocked if North Carolina pulled off the outright victory.
2) Take Temple at +6 spread against Houston for 3% of the bankroll.
The matchup between the Houston Cougars and Temple Owls is a classic offense vs defense type game. There is no doubt that Houston is one of the more offensively prolific teams in the country as they are averaging over 40 points a game and 440 yards on offense. Greg Ward Jr is no doubt the catalyst of this offense and is a big reason for the success of the Cougars. Houston has just 1 loss on the season and it came at the hands of the fairly poor UConn Huskies however its worth mentioning that Ward Jr sat out of that game with an ankle injury. He is extremely important to this team and it's already been proven that the key to defeating this team is to contain Ward Jr.
Slowing down the Housto offense is something that we believe the Temple Owls can do. This is a team that has been known for their defense this season and already has experience shutting down some of the more potent offenses in the country. They were listed as underdogs against Penn State, Cincinnati, East Carolina and Memphis this season and managed to win each of those game outright. Their game against the Memphis Tigers was arguably their most impressive defense perfromance this season as Paxton Lynch is very similar to Ward Jr in that the offense clearly runs through him. The Owls were able to contain and pressure Lynch and they managed to shut down one of the most explosive offenses in the country. A big reason for Temple's success on the defensive end has been due to the play of linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich is a positively dominant force. He has 118 tackles (71 solo, 14 for loss), 4.5 sacks, and five interceptions this season. We expect him to have a big day today contain Ward Jr.
At the end of the season is when aches and pains and injuries start to catch up with teams. Greg Ward Jr has been bothered by an ankle injury for some time and is no doubt playing through some pain. We saw in last week's win over a very good Navy team that he was starting to limp around and try to not put too much pressure on his foot. His running with the football was very limited and not what we had been accustomed to seeing from him. Against a hard nose and phycial defense like Temple, we wouldn't be surprised to see him possibly re-aggrevate that injury eithe rtrying to scrable away from the pressure or from taking too many hits in the backfield. Houston has not seen a defense quite like Temple's this season and that could be a problem for them.
The Owls will also be playing with revenge in mind for this contest as last season they lost 31-10 on this field, in one of their porrest perfromances on the season where they turned the ball over 5 times. This is a completely different team from a year ago and we expect them to show that on the field today. Temple is certainly peaking (defensively) at the right time. They allowed nothing more than a field goal to the UConn Huskies last week (the same team that beat Houston just a couple weeks ago) and held them to just 9 yards rushing. Temple has played the much tougher scheduling having gone toe-to-toe with teams like Penn State and Notre Dame this season and are more battle tested than their counterparts and we believe that could be the difference in this contest. Temple is a live dog in this matchup and should be able to stay competitive and keep things within this number if not win the game outright.
3) Take Iowa at +4 spread (buy half a point) against Michigan State for 3% of the bankroll.
Michigan State is no doubt the more well-known and "popular" team in this contest. Many people have argued that Michigan State is the better overall team however there is a counter argument to that fact. The Spartans are somewhat fortunate to be in this position. Yes they have beaten the likes of Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State this season, but let's look at how exactly they did that. They defeated Oregon early on in the season, when the Ducks were in a rebuilding mode and trying to find their offense. The Spartans managed to win that game by just a field goal. Against Michigan, they needed a botched hold by the punter for a scoop and score to "steal" a victory for the jaws of defeat and against the Buckeyes; they happened to win on a field goal as time expired. Any of those games could have gone in another direction and the Spartans could easily find themselves on the losing end of each, giving them an 8-4 season.
Even at 12-0, the oddsmakers still are not giving the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes the respect that we feel they deserve. Yes, they are not the flashiest team in the country, nor have they been winning their games in spectacular, mind blowing fashion, however that have been doing what is important and that is winning ball games. They are a team that has found ways to win and that says a lot heading into this championship game.
It's important to note that Iowa has managed to outrush 11 of their 12 opponents this season and have done so by an average of 95 yards per game. The Hawkeyes ground game is averaging 203.6 yards per contest with Jordan Canzeri leading the way with 964 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The fact that Iowa has been able to find success on the ground is a big reason for their success, but it has also allowed QB CJ Beathard to thrive under center. Beathard has not been asked to completely carry this team but he has been able to make the throws when needed. He has been completing just over 60% of his passes this season and has an impressive 12-3 touchdown to interception ratio. He hasn't turned the ball over since Oct 17, which is a span of 5 games. The Hawkeyes defense has also stepped up in a huge way this season as they are allowing just an average of 18.7 points and 331.7 yards per game. It’s no accident that Iowa leads the Big Ten in interceptions and is tied for third in the nation in points scored off of them. There is nothing flashy about the Hawkeyes, but they are always in position to make a play when they need to be.
The Hawkeyes' ability to limit the big play by their opponents and the ability to make some of their own should be the difference in this contest. Iowa's underrated defensive line should be able to stifle the Spartans' running game and allow the Hawkeyes to drop into coverage in large numbers to shut down Michigan State's aerial attack. This will likely be a classic old school, defensive, hard-nosed style of football game and we expect the points to be hard to come by. These are two very similar teams and it's a toss-up on which team will win as both a capable of doing so. We feel the best value in this contest is with the points and we wouldn't be completely shocked if the Hawkeyes perfect season continued.
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