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College football loves catch phrases. Or rather, the media (encouraged, no doubt, by the billion dollars of ad buys during the season) loves catch phrases. This weekend hardly needs a nifty buzzword, but we've got one anyway: Separation Saturday. Thus, if your team stinks this season but you'd like an excuse to watch anyway, here it is: Separation Saturday. A can't miss event, a day-long orgy, brought to you by the likes of CBS, ESPN, ABC (i.e., ESPN on ABC), NBC, and for sad bastards who must endure it, Fox Sports, with the support of UPS, Nike, AT&T, Allstate, Miller Lite, Gatorade, and thus, indirectly, viewers like you. If you wreck your car while driving and texting during a halftime beer run, you've effectively helped pay for the day's slate of games for the rest of us. We appreciate it.
The slogan speaks to the numerous head-to-head matchups of Top 25 teams, which will no doubt separate the wheat from the chaff, the pretenders from contenders, the men from boys, and the sheep from goats, as though John the Baptist looms over the Saturday schedule, winnowing fork in hand, ready to thrash out the unworthy.
All this is not to say the weekend doesn't look exciting, because it does. Beginning at 2:30 p.m., the day starts with #10 Notre Dame vs. #9 Arizona State (favored by 2.5), followed by #7 Kansas State at #6 TCU (-6), #5 Alabama (-6.5) vs. #16 LSU, #14 Ohio State visiting #8 Michigan State (-3.5), and going out with a bang a battle from the West Coast between #4 Oregon (-8) at #17 Utah. The latter will draw little attention as the rest of the nation will have burnt out, which is unfortunate as the nation's best player will be in action for the Ducks, who stand a good chance of playing for the national championship. But such is life playing in a sport covered by media biased toward East Coast teams and, increasingly, members of the SEC. The time for #12 Baylor vs. #15 Oklahoma (-5.5) has yet to be announced, but presumably Fox Sports One will find a time to squeeze in the game between NASCAR highlights.
The weekend's results could throw the playoff rankings up in the air: We predict wins by Kansas State, LSU, and possibly Ohio State. The latter is a tentative call, based more on gut instinct and the suspicion that Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett may be hitting his stride. We covered Barrett in our preseason Crystal Ball Unit column and expected he would have moderate success after unexpectedly taking over the starting job from injured Braxton Miller. To this point, we predicted OSU under Barrett would have only one loss (true) from a road game at Penn State (false, although Ohio State needed double-overtime to win in Happy Valley). The Buckeyes dropped an early game to Virginia Tech, but Barrett righted the ship in the following weeks, piling up more than 2,000 overall yards, 29 total touchdowns, and ranking a respectable #18 QBR in the FBS. (We don't really know what that means, but it sounds good. Any time you're in the Top 25 of anything in football, it bears mention.)
For the curious, Yahoo Sports created a nice chart showing the remaining schedule for the likely playoff contenders. The chart is the simplest breakdown we have seen to date, with a final column showing the necessary scenario for each team to make the playoffs; not the convoluted series of wins and losses and transitive property arguments, but a simple statement like "Win Out and In" or our favorite, "Win Out and Needs Lots of Help." Keep this chart in mind as you watch the dizzying gyrations on ESPN's touch screen throughout the game, moving teams up and down, bumping in to and out of the bracket, and otherwise filling air time.
A more detailed explanation of the top teams' chances can be found in this column on VegasInsider.com. (Note: we can't be held responsible if clicking the link triggers the klaxons above your cube.) The author makes an intriguing case for a two-loss team (Auburn) reaching the playoffs. Plus, he uses "scalp" twice.
The Chicken Picks The Big Ten
Penn State (-6.5) vs. Indiana, 11 a.m.
Indiana: Still Indiana. A reassuring constant in this crazy, mixed-up world.
Iowa (pick 'em) vs. Minnesota, 11 a.m.
The free-money selection of the day.
#25 Wisconsin vs. Purdue (+17), 11 a.m.
Some data for you:
Boilermakers are a very surprising 4-0 in their last four and 6-1 vs. spread in their last seven in 2014. The recent series, however, has been all Wisco, with Ws and covers in eight straight dating to 2004. But the Badgers are only 4-8 last 12 vs. line since late 2013 for Gary Andersen.
Michigan (-1.5) vs. Northwestern.
Who will embrace the suck best?
#14 Ohio State (+3.5) vs. #8 Michigan State, 7 p.m.
See above. Also: Braxton who?
Mike Luce is our man on campus - every Friday and Monday. He welcomes your comments.