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Fab 4 picks
Welcome to conference championship weekend.
And welcome to the last conference championship weekend that will mean anything more than rings for players and the chance at a better seed in the bracket.
Next year, this weekend — a weekend that has two bona fide national quarterfinal matchups — will be a week to rest players and make sure your kids enjoy the experience.
Don't think so?
Name last year's ACC basketball tournament champ?
The expansion to 12 teams next year — especially with the conference reshuffle — makes the thrilling slate over the next 96 hours the last dance with these stakes.
So let's enjoy.
And let's find some winners.
FSU minus-2.5 over Louisville. Yes, the Seminoles have a QB2 taking snaps. It happens. But how many Louisville players would start everywhere else for the Seminoles. And how often does a team with this much at stake — and this much talent — get a chance to play the "No one believes in us" card like FSU does. Noles by three TDs.
New Mexico State plus-11.5 against Liberty. This is not a pick about being hurt because NMSU beat Auburn. At Auburn. As Auburn was paying them $1.8 million to beat Auburn. At Auburn. This is a sign of support for a) the way Jerry Kill coaches his football team and b) the way Diego Pavia plays quarterback. Liberty is at home — and believe me when I say that the LU players and coaches will feel the heat of a win could mean a New Year's Day bowl game — and faces a ton of pressure. I'd be tempted to check the moneyline too, but getting double digits here is a gift.
Texas minus-14 (BetMGM) against Oklahoma State. Texas is here on a business trip. Oklahoma State, no matter how great a job Mullet Gundy has done, is here with smiles on their faces. Plus, Texas needs style points, especially with an early kick-off on Saturday.
Washington plus-10 against Oregon. How did this line happen, and how many of Phil Knight's Nike minions are betting their stock options on the Ducks? I think Oregon wins, but getting double digits with a team that won the first match-up on a neutral field? Yes please. Someone cue Phil Nye, because this is science friends.
Tulane-SMU over 47.5. These teams can go. And know this: These two teams are very good bets in whatever bowl game they get invited to against the fourth- or fifth-best team in whatever power conference you choose. Ten of SMU's 12 games have gone over this number, and for the Mustangs to make this a game — the line is just Tulane minus-3, so Vegas expects it to be close — they need to run, Run, RUN.
Michigan-Iowa over 34.5. That total is comical, and yes, last week's total of Iowa-Nebraska at 24.5 (which went under in a 13-10 game) was comical to the "Coming to America" level. "That's beautiful, what is that velvet?" But here's the thing. Iowa is a three-plus-TD underdog. To win, the Hawkeyes can not play defense, go three-and-out, punt and play defense. There will be some chances, especially for a team with nothing to lose. Plus, Michigan welcomes back Jim Harbaugh, who assuredly wants to stretch his Khakis. Heck, Michigan may go north of this number on their own ball.
Last week: Yikes, last week was a 5-0 right? That's, well, you know that percentage.
This season: 46-31-2 against the spread (59.7%)
Matt Rhule spoke the truth.
The Nebraska coach who just completed his first year in Lincoln said this about the transfer portal and potential QB1s in said portal.
"Make no mistake: a good quarterback in the portal costs $1 million to $1.5 million to $2 million right now," Rhule said in an interview that was posted on social media. "So just so we're on the same page, right? Let's make sure we all understand what's happening. There are some teams that have $6-7 million players playing for them."
OK. What's your point?
Is Rhule playing to his fanbase, like so many others, including Nick Saban at times, with the "Hey fanbase and alumni, pony up because we need more in the NIL recruiting fund" sentiment?
Or is Rhule lamenting the fate of the have-nots — which is a telling fall from grace for a Nebraska program that was a) the definition of the haves a couple of decades ago, and b) exploited multiple NCAA loopholes like in-state scholarships for farm boys that did not count against the football budget — with his comments?
This is the rare college sports conversation that both sides have valid points.
Yes, the NIL and the portal give the haves a bigger advantage than they have ever known.
It's a license to pay players and do so in the open once they enter the portal.
But, conversely, as a working American who hopes to be fairly compensated for my efforts, why are we looking to cap these dudes?
We're not capping their coaches or what their programs — mostly state-funded programs, mind you — spend to fire coaches. We're not capping what the programs spend on facilities. We're not capping what they charge fans on tickets or the investments into funds to buy season tickets.
But the argument to cap what players can get is somehow pure?
Heck, I'd double my annual donation to Auburn if it meant it was going to mean KJ Jefferson playing QB next year or some 7-foot transfer was leading us to the Final Four.
How about you and your favorite school?
Biggest football game in Chattanooga ever
It's a fair question I believe.
Maybe some of you have been around these parts longer than me, but Baylor-McCallie — or McCallie-Baylor depending on the stickers on your vehicle — tonight for the state title is the biggest football game I can recall in this city.
Ever. High school or college.
Sure we had some critical I-AA (what the FCS used to be called) championship games here that had huge crowds and stars like Adrian Peterson and even Joe Flacco.
Yes, the old-school rivalries of Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy back when that rivalry carried weight were big.
Yes, we had state title games the last few years, including Tyner's memorable win in 2022.
But this feels different. This is different. This is in-town arch-nemesis facing off to win it all and be the best team in the state and likely finish nationally ranked.
This is a game that — despite the cold — will draw tens of thousands, and among the crowd will be one-named guys like Kirby and Nick and many more watching the multitude of stars on the field.
This is the biggest football game ever in Chattanooga.
Prove me wrong.
(Heck, this may be the most-anticipated sporting event in our town since Michael Jordan and UNC game to the Round House 40 years ago.)
This and that
— Gang, this is completely worth your time, and this is not because it's the rules and all. This is TFP sports editor Stephen Hargis at his best, writing about the overlaps and bonds amid the rivalry — other than tax brackets mind you — of Baylor v McCallie. Enjoy, and well done Stephen.
— Was happy to see this because late in his life, I was pleased to call Dalton Roberts a friend. What an amazing man, and in truth, he deserves more than a plaque, but I am happy he got at least a plaque. And from my time spent with him, he would have said a plaque was too much. He would have wanted someone to play a guitar solo at Songbirds and call it a day.
— More rules — yes, I am a stickler — but here is Paschall's picks column from today's fish wrapper.
— UT played hoops and UT played hoops both terribly (that was a rotten first half) and well (strong comeback) in a high-scoring loss at UNC.
It's an anything goes Thursday — AGT as you may know — so fire away. And we have some mailbag spots open so there's that too.
I'll start with biggest high school rivalries in the 423. Go.
As for today, well, Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" were both released on this day in 1979 and 1982 respectively.
But we are going to stay with tonight's signature moment and offer two Rushmores for you today:
Rushmore of biggest sporting events in Chattanooga history. Go.
Rushmore of high school football coaches in our area, because I know Ralph Potter is there and man Erik Kimrey is on that trajectory depending on how long he stays.