| November 30, 2019 06:00 AM
Texas is definitely not back! Thanks to the Longhorns, my picks went 2-1 straight up and 0-3 against the spread last week. Thankfully, I don’t actually bet on these games. Still, my season-long numbers are still solid as we hit the regular season finale. You can trust me on these last three games to watch while you munch on Thanksgiving leftovers.
Record after week 13: straight up – (30-9), against the spread – (23-15, with one push)
No. 1 Ohio State (11-0) at No. 13 Michigan (9-2) (Noon ET on FOX)
Here are the stakes: For Michigan, it would be its first victory in “The Game” since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach. For Ohio State, a win would bring an undefeated record heading into the Big Ten title game. That might even be enough to get the Buckeyes a College Football Playoff spot even if they lose to the Big Ten West champ.
This is a mismatch on paper. Ohio State has the nation’s top scoring offense, the nation’s top scoring defense, and a bonafide Heisman candidate in Justin Fields.
Fields is 4th nationally in passing efficiency behind Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, and Jalen Hurts. He has thrown for 33 touchdowns and run for another 10. That’s a monstrous 43 combined touchdowns. He has thrown for over 2,300 yards while completing 69.4% of his passes, and he has only thrown one interception this season.
As good as Fields has been, Ohio State’s fourth-ranked rushing offense may render his excellence moot. J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague III are both averaging over 6.5 yards per carry on the year. Dobbins has been exceptional, rushing for over 1,400 yards with 15 touchdowns.
Michigan’s Shea Patterson will likely have to have the game of his life in order for the Wolverines to pull off the upset. He has feasted on bad teams but hasn’t wowed in big games this year against Iowa, Wisconsin, or Penn State. Indiana outgained the Wolverines 97-87 on the ground, so it’s a safe bet that Michigan won’t be able to hurt the Buckeyes too badly running the ball.
In four games against AP Top-25 teams this season (Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, and Notre Dame), Patterson has thrown for a combined 742 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions while completing just 52.3% of his passes. Those averages simply won’t get it done against Ohio State.
My X-factor in this game is Michigan’s front seven against Ohio State’s offensive line. Ohio State wrecked Wisconsin when they played in Columbus. Wisconsin wrecked Michigan when they played in Madison. If Michigan’s defensive line resembles anything like what we saw early in the season against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes are going to run the ball successfully over and over again. They’ll control the tempo of the game as well as the clock. If the Wolverines are going to have a chance to win this game, they’ll have to be strong at the point of attack and pressure Fields from start to finish.
The spread: Ohio State (-8.5)
My pick: I’m not buying that Michigan wins this game. Ohio State is better on offense and defense and has a much better and more versatile quarterback. I’m taking the Buckeyes to win and cover.
No. 5 Alabama (10-1) at No. 15 Auburn (8-3) (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS)
Here are the stakes: For Alabama, this is a must-win game in order to have any shot at going to the College Football Playoff. They’re not going to the SEC Championship game, so the Crimson Tide needs to win and get a little help in order to continue their streak of making every College Football Playoff so far. For Auburn, Gus Malzahn’s job may depend on it. Losing to Alabama is never good for Auburn, but if the Tigers lose to ‘Bama with some guy named Mac Jones under center, heads might roll.
This might be the last game that we see Derrick Brown play in college. He’s a finalist for six national awards and might be the best defensive lineman in the country if it weren’t for Ohio State’s Chase Young.
On the offensive side of the ball, the run game is always critical for Auburn. I looked back at their games against Florida, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M and saw that the Tigers only managed to average at least four yards per carry in one of the five. JaTarvious Whitlow had a total of 14 carries against LSU and Georgia and amassed just 32 yards. For those doing the math at home, that’s less than 2.3 yards per carry. Simply put, that can’t happen. Auburn doesn’t need a monster game from Whitlow, but it definitely needs a good and competent game.
In five games against AP Top-25 teams (Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, and Georgia), Bo Nix has thrown for a combined 824 yards, six touchdowns, and six picks while completing a paltry 49.7% of his passes. Nick Saban and his defenses have flummoxed far better quarterbacks than Nix. The learning curve doesn’t get much steeper as a true freshman in the Iron Bowl against a Nick Saban-coached defense.
Alabama’s scoring defense is ranked 10th nationally along with Auburn, but its rushing defense is 33rd while Auburn’s is 18th. Tua was responsible for almost all of the numbers, but the Crimson Tide have the nation’s third best passing offense. Will we see Alabama revert to more of a traditional ground attack in order to take pressure off of Jones, or will we see the Tide continue to air it out in their explosive offense?
Najee Harris is averaging six yards per carry and has 10 rushing touchdowns on the year. He has run for almost 1,000 yards and also has seven receiving touchdowns while averaging 12.1 yards per catch. He has the potential to make a major impact in this game. Jerry Jeudy, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, leads the nation’s best group of wide receivers. That’s yet another thing that Jones and Alabama definitely have in their favor.
The X-factor in this game will be how Mac Jones and Bo Nix handle the pressure of their first Iron Bowl. Jones hasn’t faced a defense like Auburn’s, and he’ll be doing it on the road at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The spread: Alabama (-3.5)
My pick: I think that Alabama’s defense will be able to frustrate Bo Nix in much the same way that Georgia’s did a couple of weeks ago. While Mac Jones certainly isn’t Tua Tagovailoa, I believe he’ll be able to get the job done on the road. I’m taking the Crimson Tide to win and cover.
No. 12 Wisconsin (9-2) at No. 8 Minnesota (10-1) (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC)
Here are the stakes: The victor wins the Big Ten West. If Minnesota wins, its hopes of a potential CFP berth remain alive. The Golden Gophers would get in if they manage to knock off Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. A Wisconsin win would give it a chance to avenge its loss to Ohio State and secure a spot in a New Year’s Day bowl. The winner of this annual rivalry game also takes possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck has done an outstanding job with Tanner Morgan and the Golden Gophers. Morgan has been one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks, and he had a sublime performance against Penn State. Morgan has thrown for nearly 2,700 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just five interceptions while completing almost 68% of his passes.
Rodney Smith has been the workhorse in the backfield. He has nearly 1,100 yards rushing and has eight rushing touchdowns. Shannon Brooks has seen limited action but has averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry in each of the last four games.
Balance will be important for Minnesota on offense because Wisconsin has the nation’s eighth-best scoring defense. Minnesota was able to beat Penn State time and time again with the big play. Will the Golden Gophers manage to replicate that explosiveness against the Badgers?
On the other sideline, Jonathan Taylor is fourth nationally in rushing touchdowns with 18 and is ranked second in the nation in total rushing yards with 1,685 and rushing yards per game. He’s the country’s best running back and paces the country’s 14th-best rushing offense.
That takes pressure off of Jack Coan, but he’ll still need to make throws in key moments to move the chains and prevent Minnesota from trying to stack the box. Coan has over 2,000 passing yards on the season to go with his 15 touchdowns passes and four picks. He’s also completing an impressive 72.7% of his throws.
Wisconsin’s Zach Hintze, in his first field goal attempt of the year, kicked a 62-yard field goal at the end of the first half in the Badgers’ game against Purdue last week. I bring that up because Minnesota hasn’t even attempted a field goal in the 40-49-yard range this season and is 0-2 on field goals of 50 or more yards. The Golden Gophers are 75% on field goals for the year, while Wisconsin has actually been worse at 68.8%.
My X-factor in this game is a simple one: Jonathan Taylor against Minnesota’s front seven. Wisconsin’s offensive lines will open up some lanes for Taylor. Can Minnesota’s linemen get a hand on him to stop him for short gains, and can its linebackers prevent him from getting to the second level? Taylor is outstanding at getting yards after contact. Can the Golden Gophers wrap him up?
The spread: Wisconsin (-3.0)
The pick: Jonathan Taylor has run for at least 200 yards and at least 7.9 yards per carry in each of the last three games. I’ll take the team with Jonathan Taylor over the team that doesn’t have him. I’m going with the Badgers to win and cover.
Noah Niederhoffer (@NNiederhoffer) is a producer at SiriusXM and a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Originally from Atlanta, he now lives in Washington, D.C.