Week 17 picks: A dilemma

Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter

Ok, what would you do? Your FBS college football team just had a good, but not great, season. Not good enough to be included in the College Football Playoff, but good enough to get invited to one of the “other” bowls. You are good enough that you believe you will be drafted next spring into the NFL, and you have several people telling you that, too.

There are dozens of young men in that very position every year and they face a tough choice: Do you risk injury in your team’s bowl game by playing; Or do you leave your team so that you can, “prepare yourself” for the NFL Draft”?

Like so many important issues today, I can see both sides. There have been dozens of players over the years who played in their teams’ “meaningless” bowl games and got hurt. Not just an “owwee”, but a serious, traumatic injury that probably cost that player millions of dollars. Jake Butt, Jaylon Smith, and Willis McGahee are three names that come to my mind, but there are dozens of others. Is the real chance of serious injury a risk worth taking?


College players receive no salary, the 2021 NFL minimum player salary is $660,000. The more highly skilled players receive much, much more. Tom Brady’s total 2021 salary, including bonuses, is $27.5 million. In 2017, the average NFL player salary was $2.7 million. I have risked money gambling in casinos, but I also have a possible monetary reward. Meanwhile, while the risk of playing in a bowl game is high for potential NFL players, the monetary reward for playing is $0.

While the players receive no salary for their efforts and the risks they take, major colleges make bank from football. The University of Texas makes over $90 million a year, and several schools make more than $50 million annually. The median football profit, from schools that do profit from football, is $7.9 million a year. Some major bowls have a multi million dollar payoff, and all pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for one game. It is difficult to quantify what the exposure from playing on TV brings to a school like Alabama or Notre Dame, but it is a lot. The schools certainly are not the victims here.

And then there are the coaches, many of whom are not the victims here, either. I could not find a complete list of coaches who, willingly or not, left their teams before bowl games, but Jay Norvell, Brian Kelly, and Lincoln Riley, are three of the better known names this year. If the coach leaves, why can’t a player? The coach has no injury risk. The player frequently chooses one NCAA football program over another because of the coach; is it fair for the player to be forced to remain while the coach is allowed to seek greener pastures?

Really, is this what we’ve become? Is money the only reason a coach coaches or a player plays? Is money worth more than commitment or your word? When a coach says he’d do anything for the “guys in the locker room” does that promise exclude earning more money? Of course the players do it, the coaches do it, too! When a coach or a player agrees to coach or play, voluntarily leaving early means you quit. You quit on your team, you quit on your institution, and, most importantly, you quit on yourself. I won’t accept quitting to make more money as a satisfactory reason. The irony of the whole situation is that football institutions, with the money they make from football and do not share with players, are laughing all the way to the bank. Ahh, life’s just not fair, is it?

Picking the winners of football games this year has become like target shooting in the dark. Who knows who is going to play this Sunday? I am writing this on Tuesday, and the news just broke that Carson Wentz is not going to play this week. That’s a pretty important piece of information if you were thinking of betting next Sunday’s Raiders-Colts game, which I was because it’s going to be on TV. On Monday, 98 players entered the NFL’s Covid protocol!! (??!!) Try to explain to someone who hasn’t been paying attention how many of those guys will be able to play Sunday. About 15 minutes ago, news broke that UCLA would not be able to play in their bowl game 4 HOURS BEFORE KICKOFF!! Bruce Arians just tested positive today, will he coach on Sunday? Does it make a difference? How will the guys that got vaccinated react to key players on their team not playing because they refuse to get vaccinated?

Obviously, I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I have said all along that I don’t even want to pretend to be a football expert and I kind of think all these non-football issues even the playing field for those of us that are not football experts. Seriously, I would advise not betting any game too early because who knows what will happen.

Maybe the evens-the-field theory has some merit because I have turned suddenly hot, or maybe it’s just that even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. Whatever, here’s my picks for this week, including the college playoff games against the spread. NFL lines are from on Tuesday, Dec. 28.

Indianapolis Colts (-6 ½) vs Las Vegas Raiders: The line opened at Indy -8 ½, so I guess the shift is because of Wentz’s absence. Although that does matter, Indy will run the ball effectively and the Raiders will give the ball away a lot.

Chicago Bears (-6) vs New York Giants

Kansas City Chiefs (-5) at Cincinnati Bengals: The Chiefs are not in the AFC North and that’s the only team that an AFC North team can beat.

Los Angeles Rams (-3 ½) at Baltimore Ravens: See above

Los Angeles Chargers (-5 ½) vs Denver Broncos: Hopefully, the Chargers get some key players back.

These lines are from on Tuesday, Dec. 28

Alabama (-13 ½) vs Cincinnati: The Bearcats live by the turnover and Alabama doesn’t have many, but they do have a lot of good players

Michigan (+7 ½) vs Georgia: More than a little bit of prejudice here.

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Robert’s picks

Wisconsin (-6) over Arizona St.: As we saw when Oregon St. lost to Utah St., the middle tier of the Pac-12 is pretty blah. Arizona St. played five teams that qualified for bowl games this season and lost four of them, to BYU, Utah, Washington St and Oregon St., and the closest of those was a 10-point loss to BYU. Wisconsin was in line to play in the Big 10 championship game until losing its last game to Minnesota. The Badgers led the nation in total defense, allowing only 241 yards per game and were 6th in scoring D at 16.4 points per game, Arizona St. running back Raachad White has opted out, and he was the team’s best weapon, and both starting cornerbacks on defense have also opted out.

Alabama (-13 ½) over Cincinnati: A friend of mine who doesn’t believe Cincinnati deserves a spot in the playoff asked me if I could make a case for Cincinnati to win the game, so here goes. Since Alabama doesn’t run the ball as well as in the past, and its best receiver John Metchie tore his ACL in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, Cincinnati can hope to control the running game with its front six, double team Alabama’s best deep threat Jameson Williams, put All-America cornerback Sauce Gardner on Cameron Latu or Jahleel Billingsley to shut down the other side of the field, and use a pass rush that has 37 sacks against a Bama offensive line that allowed 35 sacks, to try to hold the Crimson Tide to 24 points or so. That seems like an awful lot to ask, and that’s just one side of the ball. Offensively, the only legit defense Cincinnati saw this year was Notre Dame, and they only managed 24 points, and 10 of those came on an 8-yard touchdown drive after an interception and a 12-yard drive for a field goal after a fumble. If Cincinnati can’t force turnovers, they aren’t likely to have many long drives. Cincinnati is good, no doubt, and has a handful of likely NFL draft picks, but Gardner is the only one close to first-round talent. Alabama is just another level of good.

Notre Dame (-1 ½) over Oklahoma St.: Stylistically, this game looks a lot like the Big 12 Championship between Oklahoma St. and Baylor, which Baylor won 21-16. This Oklahoma St. team is unlike any other team Mike Gundy has had, with good defense and limited offense. Oklahoma St. won this season by bullying people up front, but that’s not going to happen against Notre Dame.

Titans (-3 ½) over Dolphins: I don’t want to overreact to the Titans win over the 49ers last Thursday, a game they were getting dominated in, until bad Jimmy G emerged from the huddle for the 49ers. But A.J. Brown returned to give the Titans a big play threat, Ryan Tannehill made a handful of key plays, and the Titans looked like at least a junior version of the team that was 8-2 midway through November. The Dolphins are the first team to ever win seven consecutive games after losing seven consecutive in the same season, but the opponents were the Jets twice, Texans, Ravens, Panthers, Giants and Saints with a fourth-string rookie quarterback. The streak ends here.

Chiefs (-4 ½) at Bengals: The danger of picking games several days before they’re played in the Covid-19 era is that you may end up betting on somebody’s JV team, like I was last week with the Ravens against these Bengals. On defense, the Ravens were without their top five CBs, a starting safety, a top pass-rusher and two starting defensive linemen, not to mention starting a quarterback who wasn’t even on the team 10 days before. The Chiefs look like they’re coming in without Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but they have their mojo back and they need at least one more win to clinch the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, which is a huge deal this year, because only the No. 1 seed gets a bye. I’ve said before I’m not convinced about the Bengals, and beating a team that suited up 11 practice squad players last week didn’t change that.

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