College football is back, and so is The Jug’s Easy Pick’ems spotlight. While finishing a smidge over .500 last year was nice, it was nothing to write home about. However, I return for my second installment refreshed and rejuvenated, with an entire year of covering the Big 12 under my belt. What does the experience I bring to the table mean for this year’s predictions? Probably that I’m even more recalcitrant in the face of overwhelming evidence because I’m confident in my ‘hunches.’ Of course, I could also be poised to take Vegas by storm! Probably the latter! On to the picks!
Oklahoma State (-12.5) versus Mississippi State
Oklahoma State is the highest ranked team in the Big 12 and the sexy pick to win the conference. Questions have been raised regarding the team’s defense, but the running back situation is solid and receiver Josh Stewart is among the Big 12′s best. They’re good. As a Big 12 loyalist, I know this. But what about their opponent?
The Cowboys are taking on the MSU Bulldogs at Reliant Stadium in Houston, and Mississippi State could be in trouble early. OSU has two dangerous quarterbacks, and MSU has a secondary full of questions – not a good way to start the season. Yet MSU has one of the best quarterbacks in program history in Tyler Wilson, a superior offensive line, and solid run game. This game could be all offense and no defense. A shoot-out means Oklahoma State puts up a lot of points, and the Cowboys have the talent to turn points into margin of victory. Mike Gundy covers the spread here. Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Mississippi State 29 (Over)
Louisiana Monroe at Oklahoma (-21)
I don’t have the faith most seem to be putting in the Sooners, given the turnover on defense and absolute uncertainty at quarterback (yes, I know that a mirror statement exists for K-State, but do you honestly believe in Bob Stoops more than Bill Snyder?). UL Monroe finished last year 7-5, while the Sooners were 10-3 but put up the most embarrassing performance the conference has seen in awhile while losing in the Cotton Bowl 13-41. What’s it all mean? Well, at the end of the day this is still Oklahoma playing at home against the University of Louisiana Monroe. The Sooners did an awful job of covering the spread last year, and push in the first game of 2013 (although if I absolutely had to choose, I’d say Oklahoma doesn’t cover). Prediction: Oklahoma 34, UL Monroe 13 (Push/Under)
TCU v. LSU (-4)
This is the big game – the game that either justifies the Big 12′s argument for catching up with the SEC or demonstrates once and for all the South’s superiority over the Midwest. Or something like that. I find it interesting that the conversation revolves around how the two heavyweights of the nation’s two best conference meeting to kick off the season at Cowboys Stadium. Yes, LSU is ranked 12th and TCU is 20th. These are serious programs. But, to deflate everyone’s sails a second, recognize that Oklahoma State, Texas, and Oklahoma are ranked better than TCU – the Horned Frogs are squarely in the middle of the conference, placed in the 4-6 range of a 10 team league. LSU, similarly, is ranked third of eight teams in the SEC West.
Now that my buzzkill of a perspective is out of the way, this is still a helluva game. Cowboys Stadium is essentially home game location for TCU, but don’t think for two seconds that LSU’s superior alumni base (we’re talking strict numbers here, don’t get huffy), proximity, and the fact that LSU is Louisiana football won’t make at least a third of the fans there Les Miles disciples. This is still the best game of opening weekend. Casey Pachcall is back and ready to redeem himself. TCU has the defense that all the other boys in the yard clamor for. And all that inexperience from last year portends to the greatest growth in 2013. From SB Nation:
*TCU returns eight starters from a defense last season that led the Big 12 in six categories and ranked 16th nationally, despite having faced five of the nation’s top-13 offenses.
*TCU tied Texas for the national lead last season by playing 16 true freshmen.
*The Horned Frogs tied LSU and North Carolina for the most combined true and redshirt freshmen (28) to play in 2012.
*Nearly 70 percent of players who saw action for TCU last season were freshmen or sophomores.
TCU is not to be trifled with. Yet LSU’s defense is strong, fast, and will look to be very aggressive against a Horned Frog offense that didn’t really scare anyone last year. The difference maker could be the suspension of defensive end Devonte Fields – there’s a solid argument to be made he is the best defensive player in the Big 12. I truly believe losing him means one additional LSU score, and I have to buy that results in the SEC dominance continuing. Prediction: LSU 25, TCU 20 (Over)