Wisconsin Situation Should Serve as a Wake-Up to the Rest of the Big Ten.

Alvarez
Alvarez
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez finds himself looking for a coach for the second time in three years.

People change jobs for any number of reasons. Tops among those reasons is of course more money. There are very few among us who wouldn’t take a similar job to the one we currently have if it offered more money.

But there are other scenarios that factor into a person’s decision to take a job and I believe those are what caused Gary Andersen to leave Wisconsin.

Coaching changes at Florida, Michigan and even Nebraska were not surprises, but very few on the outside or the inside for that matter saw Andersen leaving the Badgers. His decision to leave for Oregon State has not only raised questions about the situation in Madison but in the entire Big Ten as well.

Andersen is believed to have left because he and his assistants didn’t care for Madison. They are mostly west coast guys who prefer living out there and that’s good enough for me. I get that… We also have heard Andersen was not pleased that he couldn’t bring many of the players he wanted into his program because of the academic standards.

This is where our problem begins…

No one denies that the most powerful football conference in America resides in the Southern and Eastern parts of this country. The past eight to ten years speak for themselves in terms of success on the football stage.

Andersen
Gary Andersen's surprising move to the West Coast may expose more about the Big Ten then anything just at Wisconsin.

For eight straight years a team from the Southeastern Conference has played for the college football championship. The Big Ten meanwhile, the conference that Andersen has left, has played for just two titles in that same span.

So why the sudden shift after so many years of sharing power? There was a long time where teams from the Big Ten, SEC, old Southwest conference and Pac-8 used to consistently vie for titles and bowl games.

Even with expansion, the SEC has continued to pull away from most of the other conferences and most obviously left in the dust has been the corn-fed folks in the Midwest.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has some powerful things to consider going forward and Andersen’s departure will hasten those issues.

If the Big Ten wants to compete on the national stage and gain the respect they once had, then something has to be done to allow lesser academic athletes into its’ institutions. This will not be an easy thing to accomplish and there is growing sentiment that it might never happen.

I say “never” only because I would have thought the cash would have convinced them to jump on board the collegiate football money train by now. No one in the SEC will argue their academic standards don’t match those in the Big Ten.

They are all quality schools but do any actually compete with a Michigan, Northwestern or Purdue when it comes to academics? The answer is “no” and you won’t hear anyone apologize for it either.

The argument I consistently hear is about Ohio State. The Buckeyes belong to the Big Ten yet seem to have athletes similar to those in the South. My take is that OSU has figured out how to get these kids into the University.

If you look at the majors by not just OSU but also schools in the South you’ll notice plenty majoring in “exploring” and “general studies.” Get it?

Andersen’s leaving also brought out the issue of Wisconsin not paying assistants very well and that’s a viable cause for leaving but it’s obvious to me the Big Ten needs to decide if it wants to compete for football glory or continue to be the red-headed step-child to the SEC and beyond.

It All Comes Down to One Final Week of College Football

Boykin
Boykin
Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs should have no trouble with Iowa State but you never know.

It’s a big week in college football with all sorts of bowl spots on the line. Chief among them are those four coveted playoff spots.

Iowa State (+34.5) at TCU (O/U 69) – The Cyclones enter at 2-9 and this very well could be Paul Rhoades final game coaching the Cyclones. Only one time all season did ISU get beat by more than 34 points and that was a 59-14 loss to Oklahoma.

With everything that TCU is playing for, I still can’t see the Cyclones getting beaten by that much unless they just flat-out give up.

The Pick: Take ISU and the UNDER.

Kansas State (+8) at Baylor (O/U 67) – The Wildcats have already faced TCU and lost 41-20. The pressure is now on the Bears to win by that margin at least. Why? Because the playoff committee clearly doesn’t care about the Bears’ head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs, Baylor needs a monster win over K-State because what is prized by the committee is schedule strength.

Kansas State plays well defensively but it will be their offense that keeps them in this game. Baylor’s fortunes will depend on the health of Bryce Petty who missed time last week with a concussion.

The Pick: Baylor will know it’s fate because TCU’s game will have ended about three hours before they kick off. That will be a factor… Take the Wildcats getting the points and the UNDER.

 

Mauk
Mauk needs to have a turnover-free game if the Tigers are to upset the Crimson Tide.

Missouri (+14.5) vs. Alabama (O/U 49) – Not too bad for the Tigers; two years in the SEC and two SEC East titles. Last year, Mizzou gave Auburn a valiant effort in the SEC Title game before losing and now they have to contend with the Crimson Tide.

Missouri’s defense will give Alabama some problems. They’ve only given up one 100-yard receiving performance this season while the Tide’s Amari Cooper has seven himself. Mizzou also gets to the QB which could be a problem if Blake Sims starts making poor decisions.

The problem for the Tigers is that I’m not convinced their offense can put up the kind of points they are going to need to win. Gary Pinkel is a solid coach and he’ll need every trick in the book to win this win.

The Pick: A late score gives Bama the cover and I like the OVER.

Florida State (-4) vs. Georgia Tech (O/U 61) – The Yellow Jackets are without top receiver Deandre Smelter who has a knee injury. That could be a factor should Georgia Tech get behind and be forced to throw the ball.

That’s not the game plan though and Florida State knows it. The Yellow Jackets will run the ball and will run it and run it and run it some more. Tech is not great defensively per se but they won’t be a rollover either.

Jameis Winston cannot afford another four turnover game because of the time GT takes off the clock on each possession.

The Pick: Take the Noles to cover on another late TD and take the UNDER.

Wisconsin (-4) vs Ohio State (O/U 53) – Cardale Jones takes over under center for the Buckeyes after J.T. Barrett went down for the season last weekend at against Michigan. A lot of national pundits are jumping on the Wisconsin bandwagon with Barrett out but don’t count out Ohio State just yet. Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman will develop a gameplan that fits Jones who is much bigger than Barrett of Braxton Miller.

Wisconsin has a very good defense that will be tested by athletes for the first time really since the opener against LSU. The Badgers will no doubt ride the running game with Melvin Gordon against a Buckeyes’ defense that has struggled against the run.

The Pick: I like OSU getting the points and the UNDER.

 

Lots of Leftovers for Your Wagering Plate

Hoke
Hoke
Saturday is likely the end for Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan.

Today would normally be a day to sit down and give you the breakdown on a handful of college games that are going on today and tomorrow. Instead, I’m going to give you much more. Kind of like how you went back for more turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc.

Loosen your belt and enjoy. (My picks are in BOLD)

Northern Illinois (+7) at Western Michigan – Both teams are tied atop the MAC West with Toledo at 6-1. WMU has won six-straight but needs help while a NIU win gives them the title.

Virginia (-1) at Virginia Tech – Both teams enter at 5-6. The winner goes bowling while the loser goes home and perhaps starts searching for a new head coach.

Nebraska (EVEN) at Iowa – There are some suggesting this game could determine Bo Pelini’s fate in Lincoln while Kirk Ferentz appears to be in Iowa City for life.

Arkansas (-3) at Missouri – The Razorbacks are playing as well right now as any team in the country. They’ve posted back-to-back shutouts over LSU and Ole Miss. A Mizzou win gives them the SEC East title.

Rich
Rich Rodriguez and his Wildcats host rival Arizona State in a game with major implications.

Arizona State (+2.5) at Arizona – This one is simple. The winner stays alive in the Pac-12 South race while the loser is out. This is one of the great rivalries in college football that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Stanford (+6) at UCLA – The disappointing season of Stanford finishes in the Rose Bowl where it all unraveled last season in a loss to Michigan State. The Bruins appear to be peaking and remain a long-shot for the college football playoff should chaos ensue at the top.

Saturday’s Action

Michigan (+21) at Ohio State – Brady Hoke needs a win just to make UM officials even consider keeping him. The Buckeyes have been heavy favorites before against the Wolverines but have struggled to win. Not today… This one will get ugly.

Minnesota (+14) at Wisconsin – Minnesota has to be ticked at being a two-touchdown dog at Wisconsin. The Gophers have played well in wins and losses this season and this one is for the Big 10 West title. Look for lots of running in this one.

Washington (-3) at Washington State – The Battle for the Apple Cup features the bowl-bound Huskies against a Cougars’ team that has struggled all season. Mike Leach’s job security in Pullman can only be described as “not very good” at the moment.

Baylor (-25) at Texas Tech – TCU is in the clubhouse at 11-1 after drubbing Texas. Baylor now must hold serve in order to keep their playoff chances alive. The Red Raiders can score points but their defense is…. Going to be abused today. Normally anything over 21 points scares me but not today.

Georgia Tech (+13) at Georgia – The Yellow Jackets are already in the ACC Title game against Florida State. The Bulldogs will already know if they are in the SEC Title game by the time they wake up today. Either way, I expect home-field to be important.

Oregon (-20) at Oregon State – What a disappointing season this has been for the Beavers. I expected so much more from Sean Mannion and company… The Ducks know the drill; win today and win the Pac-12 title and they’re in the playoff. OSU won’t go easily though and keeps it close.

Auburn (+9) at Alabama – Nothing can top last year’s game so let’s forget that right now. Bama has been a machine at home this season while Auburn has really fallen apart in recent weeks.

Florida (+7.5) at Florida State – The Seminoles have done nothing easy all season and that will continue today. In Will Muschamp’s final game coaching the Gators, I expect them to keep it close.

Putting the Bow on Another Crazy Saturday

Petty
Petty
Bryce Petty and the Baylor Bears throttled the Sooners in Norman to stay alive in the playoff chase.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more strange in the the world of college football, the second Saturday of November came along. Here’s a look at the craziness.

The Oklahoma Sooners still held out hope for a Big 12 title heading into their home game against 12th-ranked Baylor. Things were certainly looking good as the Sooners led 14-3 at the end of the first quarter. Ahem, that 14 points is all that OU would score. Their defense on the other hand gave up 45 unanswered points in the Bears’ 48-14 thrashing of Oklahoma in Norman.

Minnesota and Wisconsin will play at the end of the season in Madison for the Paul Bunyan ax. Both remained on a crash course for the Big Ten West title with wins Saturday. The Gophers blew out Iowa 51-14 while Wisconsin went to West Lafayette and beat the Boilers 34-16. Both teams must face Nebraska before then and the Gophers still have the Ohio State Buckeyes as well so there is still much to be determined.

Saban
Alabama survived in Death Valley and Nick Saban couldn't be happier. I think...

In Death Valley where LSU Had Coach Les Miles has lost just three times in 50 night games there, the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers in overtime 20-13. Bama kicked a field goal to tie in the final seconds then scored immediately in OT. The defense took over from there forcing four-straight incompletions to earn the win.

With the Tide’s win, there are four other games from yesterday that will impact their standing heading into Tuesday’s “Big Reveal.”

A lot of people were trying to make an argument for Notre Dame should the Irish finish with just the one, close loss to Florida State. That argument is no longer valid after the Irish were left for dead in the desert by Arizona State. QB Everett Golson threw for over 400 yards but turned the ball over five times in the 55-31 loss. With this development, the Irish are on the outside looking in while ASU will have built up its’ standing with just one loss.

Another one-loss team hoping to survive the regular season was Auburn. No one however, could have seen their 41-38 loss to Texas A&M coming. The Aggies just weeks ago were beaten by Alabama 59-0 but behind new QB Kyle Allen they held off a late charge by the Tigers. Auburn will now have to be the litmus test as to whether a two-loss SEC team can make it. They still have to survive road trips to Georgia and Alabama though.

In an elimination game, the Ohio State Buckeyes went into East Lansing and dropped 49 points on the Spartans in a 49-37 win that gives Ohio State control of the Big Ten East Division. The loss for the Spartans means a chance at the college football playoff is now gone. For the Buckeyes, it means they stay alive. Their one loss was to Virginia Tech and is probably the worst loss of any of the one-loss teams so there is no guarantee OSU gets in but at least they are in position.

The other elimination game was in the Big 12 where TCU knocked off fellow one-loss tea Kansas State 41-20. The Horned Frogs have road trips to Kansas and Texas before finishing the season at home against Iowa State. On paper, it would appear TCU is a shoo-in to finish with just the one loss to Baylor. The really intriguing part here is if both finish with one loss.

Baylor finishes with Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State all at home. The nod would have to be given to the Bears should they also finish with just one loss

My top Four for right now would be Mississippi State, Florida State, Oregon and Alabama.

 

What an Opening Saturday in College Football!

Miles
Miles
More Les Miles' magic propelled the Tigers to a comeback win over Wisconsin.

If this is what we are going to get every Saturday through January of 2015 then I think we’ll all be quite pleased. While there will be weekends with more upsets and perhaps more exciting action, this opening Saturday proved one important thing; I don’t think there is one dominant team out there at the moment. Let’s start with the two big games in Texas.

LSU rallied to beat Wisconsin last night in Houston by scoring 21 unanswered points to win 28-24. The Badgers have to be violently ill this morning after having a powerhouse SEC team on the ropes only to get knocked out in the end. Badgers’ QB Melvin Gordon carried his team with 140 yards rushing and a touchdown but new QB Tanner McEvoy could do nothing in the passing game. He went just 8 for 24 for 50 yards and two picks.

The Tigers meanwhile looked uninterested, fundamentally unsound and lazy while falling behind Wisconsin early and into the second half. Les Miles as expected started Anthony Jennings who was miserable at QB. Brandon Davis came in for a series and didn’t look much better. Jennings was able to find a groove in the second half though throwing two touchdown passes to rally the Tigers to victory.

Wisconsin will have to figure out the QB situation because those numbers by McEvoy won’t get it done. LSU meanwhile has tons of work to do but can build on the comeback win.

Fisher
FSU's Jimbo Fisher has some things to work on despite winning last night in Arlington.

Up the road in Arlington, defending national champion Florida State survived 37-31 against a very tough and game Oklahoma State team. The Seminoles were thought to be as good on defense as they are on offense but giving up 364 yards and 8 of 16 on third downs is not going to get this team a return trip to Cowboys Stadium for the title game.

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was great when he needed to be despite two turnovers. He threw for 370 yards, a touchdown and a fantastic 28-yard TD run. The big concern going forward for FSU is the running game which put up just 106 yards. The Seminoles’ offensive line is considered the best in the country but they looked anything but against a younger, more inexperienced defensive front from Oklahoma State.

Sometimes it’s games like these that give you a shot in the arm or are a real wake up call. If I’m Florida State this morning I’m hoping that this is exactly the case.

Other games of note…

UCLA needed three defensive touchdowns to win on the road against Virginia 28-20. If Brett Hundley expects to be a Heisman candidate then he has to play better than he did… Ohio State defeated Navy 34-17 to begin the ‘season without Braxton Miller’ campaign. The Midshipmen actually led 14-13 in the third quarter… There was no gigantic upset in the Big House this time as Michigan rolled to a 52-14 win over Appalachian State. This was a much less talented Mountaineer team than was the 2007 team however… Second ranked Alabama survived a tough contest with West Virginia winning 33-22 in Atlanta. The Tide rolled to over 500 yards of offense with running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon both going over 100 yards on the day. The alarming part for Bama is that WVU QB Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards which is the most ever against a Saban-coached Bama team. He broke the record set in the Tide’s last game which was a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma… The clear front-runner in the Heisman race has to be Georgia’s Todd Gurley who rushed for 198 yards and three TDs in the Bulldogs’ 45-21 rout of Clemson. He also had a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown too.

Rejoice! College Football Saturday is Back

Mason
Mason
Hutson Mason takes over for Aaron Murray in Georgia as the Bulldogs welcome Clemson.

It’s finally here! Football Saturday is back!

Clemson (+8) at Georgia (O/U 54) – The Tigers enter 2014 having to replace a lot of offensive talent which means Head Coach Dabo Swinney will rely on a seasoned defense to carry his team early in the season. Georgia enters the post-Aaron Murray era with QB Hutson Mason who will benefit from having Heisman Trophy hopeful Todd Gurley in the backfield.

Cole Stoudt replaces Tajh Boyd at QB for Clemson and although it was in mop-up duty last season, he threw five TD passes. The Georgia defense struggled mightily last season and I’m not sure how quickly they turn things around. I sense a close game in Athens so take the Tigers and I like the over.

Driskel
Jeff Driskel returns from injury to lead the Gators into 2014.

Idaho (+37) at Florida (O/U 50) – It’s been an incredibly long offseason in Gainesville following last year’s horrendous season. The Gators and Head Coach Will Muschamp will feature a very good defense and an offense that returns quarterback Jeff Driskel who missed most of last year with an injury. His absence led to many of the problems for the Gators.

Last season, the Vandals surrendered 80 points to Florida State and now they play a Gators’ team that has won 24 straight season openers. I like Florida to cover and I love the over.

Fresno State (+21) at USC (O/U 58) – Is anyone happier to actually play a game than Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans? The last week has seen the coach be called a ‘racist’ by a former player and he’s had to deal with Josh Shaw’s heroic story-turned police investigation. USC and Fresno saw each other in the Las Vegas Bowl where the Trojans routed the Bulldogs 45-20.

USC has excellent talent in the top 22 players but the depth is hurting a bit. Fresno State has to replace record-setting QB Derek Carr who could be starting for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL. I like USC to cover today simply because I think  they’ll be excited to play football and remember, this was a ten-win team last season. I love the over as well.

Florida State (-19) vs Oklahoma State (O/U 64) – The defending national champions open their season in Cowboys Stadium against the Cowboys from Oklahoma State. Like USC, the Seminoles have to be happy to get back on the field after a ‘crabby’ offseason for Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

Mike Gundy has done a great job for his alma mater in Stillwater but he could use a signature win but it won’t happen here. The Seminoles have too much speed and talent in all of the right places and I expect them to cover tonight. I also love the over.

LSU (-5.5) vs Wisconsin (O/U 50) – The good news for Wisconsin is that they are one of the Big Ten’s top teams for 2014. The bad news is that they have lost six of their last seven bowl games which means the jump in competition has been an issue. The fact that the Badgers return just three starters on defense doesn’t bode well for them either. The Tigers always reload well and that’s the case again in Baton Rouge. QB Zach Mettenberger is off to the NFL and Head Coach Les Miles seems likely to play both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris in the opener.

The game is being played in Houston but that favors the Tigers significantly who don’t have a long way to drive. The amount of newcomers on the Wisconsin defense worries me and it looks like the Badgers will go with untested QB Tanner McEvoy. I like the Tigers to cover and I’ll take the under as the Tigers will limit Melvin Gordon forcing the Badgers to throw.

Odds to Win the 2014 Big Ten West Division

Gordon
Gordon
Melvin Gordon and the Badgers are my pick to win the Big Ten West Division.

On Tuesday, I started looking at college football conference odds by opening up with the Big Ten’s East Division. Today I turn the car towards the sunset and head to West Division where it appears there is a two-horse race between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Don’t tell that to a few other teams in the Division because they aren’t going to just step aside in the race to represent the division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Illinois 33/1 – Illini Head Coach Tim Beckman enters year three with a 6-18 record and his job can only be saved with a bowl bid in my opinion. The non-conference schedule should provide three wins against lesser opponents while a trip to Washington probably won’t go well. The conference schedule features road games at Nebraska, at Wisconsin, at Ohio State and at Northwestern. That leaves Beckman little room for error because those are all losses in my mind. They will not threaten for the division title.

Ferentz
Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes could play spoiler in the Big Ten West Division.

Iowa 5/1 – The Hawkeyes enter 2014 with high hopes under Kirk Ferentz who enters his 19th season in Iowa City. The offense has nice tools to work with in both the running and passing game and the schedule could not set up better. The non-conference slate features rival Iowa State at home and a trip to Pitt with two winnable home games as well. The conference schedule is where the Hawkeyes can make waves. They have both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home in the final two games of the season and they also get Northwestern at home as well. If you are looking for that one team to knock off the Badgers and Huskers then here it is.

Minnesota 10/1 – The Golden Gophers’ biggest question is actually about the guy on the sidelines and that’s Head Coach Jerry Kill. Despite the university giving him a raise, concerns over his health have to be hanging over this team. Twice last season Kill was unable to travel with the team and that’s never good. Throw in the fact their top quarterback Phillip Nelson transferred to Rutgers and you have the makings of a decline in Minnesota this year. The Gophers have a brutal schedule that includes road games at TCU, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraksa. They also have Ohio State at home. I see a step back this season.

Nebraska 3/2 – Bo Pelini was thought to be gone following a blowout loss to Iowa in the season finale last year but the school gave him a contract extension. I do believe that a down season will put him right back on the hot seat in Lincoln and the schedule will be nothing easy to navigate. They have Miami,Fl at home and a trip to Fresno State in non-conference action and conference trips to Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa. Despite the return of running back Ameer Abdullah, receiver Kenny Bell and QB Tommy Armstrong, the defense has only three starters back. I think the Huskers finish third in the West.

Northwestern 20/1 – The Wildcats suffered a disappointing season after a strong start in 2013 and didn’t go to a bowl. They’ll get back to a bowl in 2014 and the schedule should help that.  They get Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan at home. If they stay healthy, they could be a sleeper in the West.

Purdue 100/1 – Darrell Hazell went 1-11 in his first year and a repeat of that will cost him his job. The schedule could help that with Wisconsin and Michigan State coming to Ross-Ade Stadium. Still, the talent just isn’t there. Three wins might be a successful season in 2014.

Wisconsin 6/5 – The Badgers open in Houston, Texas against LSU. If they can get past the Tigers then I believe they have the opportunity for a run at the four-team playoff. The tough road trips are at Iowa and at Northwestern. Outside of that, I think the Badgers can make a serious run at national honors. I expect them to play Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Long-Shot Possibilities to Make College Football’s Four-Team Playoff

Cook
Cook
Connor Cook and the Spartans have a favorable schedule in 2014.

On Friday, I gave you the top eight favorites to make the new four-team college football playoff. Today I’m looking at teams that are outside of the favorites that I believe will have a legitimate shot at making the playoff.

The term ‘long-shot’ in college football is used a little differently than in other walks of life. Most of the teams listed below are very viable title contenders but they just aren’t listed among those top eight. Let’s get to it.

Will _____ make the four-team playoff?

Baylor Yes +350, No -600 – The defending Big 12 Champs have Heisman candidate Bryce Petty leading the offense but the question will be how well the defense can play? The schedule is not horrible but they do have to go to both Texas and Oklahoma. If they get wins in both of those locations then the sky’s the limit.

USC Yes +550, No -1,100 – The Trojans enter the Steve Sarkisian Era with high hopes that he can return them to glory. After starting all 14 games last season, Cody Kessler will start again at quarterback. USC will face some tough tests but only Stanford and UCLA are on the road. They get Notre Dame, a bowl-game rematch with Fresno State in the opener and both Oregon State and Arizona State at home. Don’t sleep on this team.

Michigan State Yes +300, No -500 – The defending Big Ten Champions are going to be a very sexy pick despite losing some key players from last year’s team. The Spartans only road tests are at Oregon and at Penn State. They get Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska at home in East Lansing. Head Coach Mark Dantonio will keep this team competitive.

Richt
Mark Richt and the Bulldogs need a big season in 2014.

Georgia Yes +250, N0 -400 – If the Bulldogs can get past Clemson in the opener and then at South Carolina two weeks later then look out. The rest of the schedule is pretty favorable including the final three game at home and that includes Auburn and Georgia Tech. If the defense improves and the quarterback play is solid then UGA could be there.

South Carolina Yes +400, No -600 – The Gamecocks have to replace Connor Shaw and of course #1 pick Jadaveon Clowney but the cupboard is far from bare. The good news is that SC has four of their first five games at home. The bad news is that they have road games at Auburn, Florida and Clemson in the second half of the schedule. Spurrier always has competitive teams but this one will depend on the QB.

Florida Yes +600, No -1,000 – Frankly I find it embarrassing that the Gators are listed here. This team was brutal last year and while you can point to the loss of QB Jeff Driskel, his injury was far from the only reason the Gators finished under .500 for the first time in many years. Florida should open with three straight wins at home before their first road game which is at Alabama. They also have Tennessee and Florida State on the road. Don’t waste your time on the Gators.

Others I like to make it… Wisconsin – If they can get past LSU in the opener in Houston then the schedule is extremely favorable the rest of the way… Arizona State – Road games at USC, Oregon State and Arizona are tough, but they get Notre Dame, UCLA and Stanford at home. The Sun Devils are a long-shot but they made good strides last year.

Of all the teams above, I like the Michigan State schedule the best and give them the best chance of making the final four.

Breaking Down the Final Four Match-Ups

Napier
Napier
Can Shabazz Napier keep the Huskies' run alive against the Gators?

The Final Four is finally here and I fully expect to see good games that will feature all kinds of swings and back and forth action. Who do I like to advance to Monday night? Read on people!

UConn (+6) vs. Florida – The last time these two teams met UConn defeated the Gators 65-64 in a game that could not have been any tighter than the final score indicates. The Huskies led by one at the half and then the two teams scored the exact same amount of points in the second half of that game. As close as the game was, it was also the very last time the Gators lost a game this season.

Florida comes in with one of the top defenses in the land but we have to give the Huskies credit for their defense as well. What concerns me for the Gators is the size that UConn can bring both in the starting line-up and from off the bench. The Huskies will have a significant height advantage over Florida’s big guys who are around 6’9″ and typically muscle their way to the hoop.

Huskies’ phenomenal guard Shabazz Napier had a 26 point game in that match-up and that’s about what he is averaging so far in the tournament. The challenge for Billy Donovan and company is to not necessarily keep Napier from scoring. They have to make him work for every shot and every point and they also must make him defend at the other end as well.

While Kevin Ollie has done a tremendous job coaching the Huskies, I have to give the coaching edge to Billy Donovan. Guard Scottie Wilbekin is an extension of Donovan on the court and I believe that’s the difference. I love the Huskies getting the six points so take them but I like Florida to advance in a close game.

Randle
Can the Badgers handle the athleticism of Randle and the Wildcats?

Kentucky (-2) vs. Wisconsin – Last week while I was watching the Kentucky-Michigan game, I felt either team could have easily won the game and no one could have complained. The one thing I kept coming back to in that game though as it wore on was the overall athleticism of the Wildcats.

Yes, they are a group of freshmen who are doing something we’ve really only seen once before and that was ironically the Fab Five of Michigan 20 years ago. That said, I believe the biggest problem Wisconsin is going to face is the sheer athleticism of Kentucky. I know, I know…. The Badgers face plenty of other athletic teams throughout the season so why is this any different?

I find it different for two reasons; first is the coaching. Love him or hate him, John Calipari can flat out coach and he’s gotten the most out of these kids and then some. The second difference about UK’s athleticism is that these are not weak, scrawny freshmen. These are thick, well-built young men who have weathered the physical storm all season long in the SEC.

The Badgers will counter the athleticism with physicality and precision. While this isn’t one of Bo Ryan’s better defensive teams, this doesn’t mean the Badgers can’t play any D. They will make the Wildcats work on the defensive end and then will play very physical and aggressive man-to-man defense that will challenge Kentucky to take care of the ball.

The fate of UK big man Willie Cauley-Stein is unknown but speculation is that he won’t play in the final four with his ankle injury. I really think Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers will make this interesting but the Wildcats just have too many options and too many athletes. I like Kentucky to cover and advance.

Final Four: Kentucky Short Chalk Against Wisconsin

The NCAA Tournament’s Final Four tips off on Saturday with two national semifinal games. One of those matchups features the experience of the Wisconsin Badgers versus the youth and raw talent of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky has finally received the respect of odds makers despite being seeded No. 8 in the tournament. Currently on Bovada and topbet, the Wildcats are a short favorite over the Badgers who are a No. 2 seed.

Kentucky will start five freshmen and Wisconsin will have four upperclassmen starting on the court as well as Sam Dekker a sophomore.

Rebounding could be the key to the outcome of the game with Kentucky having a plus-10 margin during the tournament.

The current line on betonline and sportsbook.com has Kentucky favored on 1.5 points with the over/under point total sitting on 139.5.

Last Sunday when the line opened, the Wildcats were -2 but the majority of books, including Bovada have adjusted that and it has been 1.5 since midweek.

The teams have played just four games head to head with Kentucky leading the series 3-1. The two have not played since the Sweet 16 in 2003, when Kentucky won 63-57, but did not cover as a favorite by 11 points.

This is Kentucky’s third trip to the Final Four in the last four years. The Wildcats won the national championship in 2012 with a starting lineup of two sophomores and three freshmen. There are just three players, who are seldom used, that remain from that national title team.

Wisconsin was in the Final Four the last time in 2000, The Badgers lost to Michigan State that year 53-41.

Wisconsin is 4-0 against the spread during this year’s tournament and 7-1 against the number over their past 8 games played in the NCAA Tournament.

The UNDER has cashed in 3 of the 4 Wisconsin games in this tournament with Wisconsin averaging 71 points on offense and allowing 55 on defense during regulation.

Kentucky has covered the spread in each of its past 7 games played.

The OVER has cashed in the past three games for Kentucky. The Wildcats are scoring 76 points per game and allowing 72 per game over that stretch.

The size difference Kentucky has over Wisconsin at the guard and wing spots could be a big difference in the game’s outcome. The three should be able to shot easily over their Wisconsin opponents.

Julius Randle the talented freshmen power forward will be crucial for Kentucky. He has averaged double digits in rebounds in all of the tournament games and should have a decided advantage over Dekker down low.

Kentucky defeated three of the four Final Four teams from last season on their road to this season’s Final Four. However, this is a disciplined Badgers team that is well coached and handles the pressure well with few turnovers.

Some odds makers say Kentucky is undervalued and should be at -3 of even -4 in this game.

Pick: Kentucky 78-69 and the OVER