It’s Rivalry Week! Time for old foes to get together again and see who comes out on top. For Weekend Predictions, that means a clash between supreme confidence and crippling insecurities about my picks.
My season record against the spread remains very strong. But self-doubt is the favorite after I picked the Falcons to beat the Cowboys. I was too invested in my take that the Falcons are good, a notion I didn’t abandon even after the collapse in Cleveland.
Oh, well. Everybody knows I love underdogs, so I’m looking forward to a strong week of picks. My confidence is poised to spring a big upset against my doubts.
Georgia Tech (plus-17) at Georgia
If the Jackets win their third in a row at Sanford Stadium, coach Paul Johnson says he doesn’t want his players messing with the hedges. But I see a loophole: Johnson didn’t say anything about himself. If Tech somehow wins this game, the stadium pretty much belongs to Johnson so, by all rights, he should just take all the hedges.
Consecutive home losses in the rivalry make it hard for Bulldogs backers who want to sniff their noses at the Jackets. They could blame Mark Richt’s stupid squib kick for one of them, but then Kirby Smart lost his first game as coach against Tech. There would be an existential crisis in Athens if the Bulldogs lose this one, even if it didn’t mean blowing their playoff chances before they get to play Alabama.
That’s not going to happen. While making a case for how Tech can upset Georgia I nearly talked myself into taking the Jackets and the points. But Georgia has been humming for four consecutive weeks while Tech got a little lucky in victories over Miami and Virginia, so I’m backing Georgia and giving the points.
Falcons (plus-12 1/2) at Saints (Thursday night)
The Saints ran up the score on the Eagles on Sunday. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins gave Sean Payton the finger after Alvin Kamara ran past him for a late TD catch. And Payton likes Jenkins, who used to play for him.
Payton doesn’t much like the Falcons, so we know what’s going to happen if he gets a chance to rub their faces in it. He might get that opportunity. Save for that win at Washington, the Falcons haven’t shown the ability to outmaneuver a good opponent, and the Saints are much better than Washington. I’ll take New Orleans and give the points.
Other college rivalry games of interest
Auburn (plus-24 1/2) at Alabama
Bama was tied with The Citadel at halftime last week. That’s not the first time the triple option gave Nick Saban’s team trouble. Maybe purported offensive guru Gus Malzahn should consider running it because it couldn’t be much worse than what he’s trying now. I’ll take Bama and give the points.
South Carolina (plus-26.5) at Clemson
I usually get some angry emails whenever I tweak Will Muschamp. So, in the spirit of the holiday season, I’ll say that he’s no more hypocritical than Dabo Swinney. Seriously, Muschamp has done a solid job returning the Gamecocks back to mediocrity after Steve Spurrier decided he’d rather be golfing. Reluctantly, I’ll take Clemson and give all those points.
Tennessee (plus-3 1/2) at Vanderbilt
Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt says “everyone is jealous of Tennessee” because Philip Fulmer is athletic director. Sounds preposterous, but I think Pruitt is playing 3-D chess. Fulmer angled for the Vols coaching job before he was hired as AD, so Pruitt is just flattering Fulmer to keep him upstairs. I like the Vols with the points.
Florida (minus-6 1/2) at Florida State
Here’s what it’s come to for this rivalry: Florida coach Dan Mullen talked trash about ending FSU’s 36-year bowl streak. Even sadder: Seminoles coach Willie Taggart said it’s “very important” to maintain the streak, which isn’t even official because of vacated victories. I’ll take the Gators to cover.
Virginia (minus-4.5) at Virginia Tech
The Hokies have won 14 in a row against Virginia. Defensive tackle Ricky Walker told the Washington Post: “No matter what, they always think they’re better than us, and we just keep on winning and just dominating." Now that’s how you talk trash. I’ll take Va. Tech and the points.
Kentucky (minus-17) at Louisville
Louisville fired coach Bobby Petrino with two games remaining in the season. It was the right move. The downside is that Petrino won’t be on the sideline to be humiliated on his home field by the rival he once owned. If Cardinals fans must suffer, so should Petrino. Kentucky covers.
Michigan (minus-4) at Ohio State
This is a big game for bragging rights. Does Ohio State or Michigan have the more insufferable coach? The answer seems obvious when Urban Meyer is a choice, but don’t underestimate Jim Harbaugh. Michigan player Karan Higdon guaranteed a victory over the Buckeyes, just as Harbaugh did as a Michigan player in 1986. Naturally, Harbaugh took issue with the interviewer for asking the question. I’ll take the Buckeyes to cover.
Notre Dame (minus-11) at USC
USC coach Clay Helton may get fired if the Trojans lose to finish 5-7. CBS Sports reports that potential replacements include Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio. There’s a connection there: Fisher and Del Rio both managed to keep their NFL coaching gigs long after they were exposed as mediocre. Also, they also both went to USC. I’ll take the Fighting Irish to cover.
Washington (plus-2 1/2) at Washington State
The winner moves on to face Utah in the Pac-12 title game. A victory also would keep Washington State alive for a playoff berth. The Cougars have lost five in a row to Washington, all by big margins. Told that one of his players said Washington “out-physicaled” the Cougars recently, coach Mike Leach replied: “I think that’s probably true. All those guys are playing in the NFL and out-physicaling guys there.” I hope that phrase becomes a thing. Cougars cover.
National game of interest
Oklahoma (minus-2) at West Virginia
The Big 12 annoyingly refuses to get on board with the Rivalry Week theme. I guess that’s what happens when your league has maybe three true football rivalries, one of which anyone outside of Texas cares about. If Oklahoma beats West Virginia and Texas doesn’t choke at Kansas, then the Sooners and Longhorns will meet in the Big 12 title game. I’ll take Oklahoma as the road favorite.
Seahawks (plus-3 1/2) at Panthers
Unlike the Falcons, the Seahawks beat a mediocre opponent (Green Bay) to maintain a realistic chance of making the playoffs. The Panthers flopped at Detroit but, unlike the Falcons, they are still in the postseason chase because they beat the Cowboys, Bengals and Eagles. Man, why did I ever trust the Falcons? I’ll take Seattle with the points.
49ers (plus-3 1/2) at Buccaneers
Dirk Koetter brought QB Jameis Winston off the bench at the Giants after Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled. Now Winston is the starter again and, according to him, he only had one bad game in three starts, if you don’t count the “boneheaded” interception in the loss at the Falcons and the “boneheaded” pick in the loss to the Browns. For the season, Winston has 11 boneheads and eight TD passes. I like the 49ers with the points.
Against the spread: 9-5 (92-71-5 season)
AJC pick ’em (straight up): 9-5 (114-63 season)