Cocktail Party pick and the Pac-12 takes over Saturday

It’s Gameday. Penn State is off this week as James Franklin locks in his plans to ruin Minnesota’s perfect season — the Lions are simply more battle tested than the Gophers, lay the points — but there is still plenty of fun football action to watch today. The Big Ten may be mostly on bye and the SEC slate is just one big game, but that just means the Pac-12 and AAC get to shine. Don’t screw it up, guys. With the ACC stumbling around on a bender this year, one of you might be considered a major conference with a good showing today.

The biggest game of the day is the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. Georgia (-6.5) and Florida go head-to-head in a battle to play spoiler in the SEC Championship game. The line feels like a trap because of Georgia’s struggles in the passing game lately. Jake Fromm threw for just 35 yards against Kentucky two weeks ago, but that game was played in a tropical storm. The week before at South Carolina, he completed just 55 percent of his throws and threw three picks. Fromm should be better against Florida, but I don’t think it will be enough to pull away from the Gators, who are coming off a game against the Gamecocks in which they gave up 7.0 yards per rush to Tavien Feaster and still won by 11. Gotta take the points in the rivalry game.

The rest of the SEC slate ain’t great, but FOX has a nice little Pac-12 doubleheader to take us through the afternoon and evening. It starts at 4:00 p.m. with Utah (-3.0) at Washington. Since being upset by USC, the Utes have won their last four tilts, all by 18 points or more. They’re on a path of destruction towards the Pac-12 Championship, but they still need help due to that loss in Los Angeles. Utah ought to be in for its toughest battle in a while as it heads up to Seattle to take on Washington. The Huskies nearly upset Oregon two weeks ago in a similar spot, but I don’t trust Jacob Eason against a defense this stout. Washington has looked like a contender at times this year, but they’ve also put up a couple of stinkers against Cal and Stanford. Lay the three points with Utah.

If they can win in Seattle, the Utes can then turn their attention to the next game on the Pac-12 slate, as conference leader Oregon (-4.0) heads south to take on a USC squad that is tough to figure out. The Trojans have battled through quarterback injuries and a puzzling loss to BYU, but they still control their destiny in the Pac-12 South as two of their three losses have come out of conference. Both teams are coming off narrow escapes as USC had to come from behind to beat Colorado in Boulder and Oregon needed a last-second field goal to beat Washington State at home. I’m not feeling great about it, but I have to go with Oregon and the more experienced quarterback Justin Herbert. I’m betting on the defense that was so great earlier in the season getting back on track. Ducks by a touchdown.

Oregon vs. USC will be going right up against the AAC showdown in Memphis. The SMU Mustangs are putting on their blue suede shoes and heading to Memphis (-5.5) to put their undefeated record on the line. The brand names aren’t very strong in this game, but it has a chance to be a very fun shootout as ABC and ESPN attempt to outdraw the Pac-12 contest with its higher star power. I’m confused by the line because Memphis burned me against Temple last month and just recently nearly lost to a bad Tulsa squad. SMU didn’t look great against Tulsa either, but it at least took care of the Owls and has a decent out of conference win over TCU. It’s not as though SMU is a much better team than Memphis, but the line should be much closer to even than it is. Take the points and even if Memphis wins on a late field goal, you’re still good.

The other action around the country isn’t great, but here are two games I feel good about. Michigan (-21.0) at Maryland, as the Terps lost to Minnesota by 42 and Penn State by 59. The Wolverines are rolling and should clobber them. Also, Kansas State (-5.0) at Kansas is looking like a sneaky good game. I am invoking the letdown spot after the Wildcats upset Oklahoma and taking the underdog Jayhawks. Their last two games are a three-point win over Texas Tech and a two-point loss to Texas. The floor could collapse at any minute, but I’m betting they stay competitive and keep the rivalry game tight.

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