Over the last few weeks of the season, the four-team race for the BCS Championship Game will be the dominant storyline in college football.
Of the top four -- Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame -- the oddsmakers have one clear favorite to win the title, one clear underdog and no sign who it thinks will be the second team in that title game.
The offshore site Sportsbook.ag has odds to win this season's BCS title. Alabama is -125, Oregon is +300, Kansas State is also +300, Notre Dame is +1000. No other team is less than 20-to-1 odds.
Alabama being an overwhelming favorite is no surprise. Oregon and Kansas State seem to be neck and neck to join the Crimson Tide in the title game, according to the odds. Both teams have pretty tough remaining schedules, so neither is a lock to go undefeated. Does that mean Notre Dame at 10-to-1 is a good pick?
The Irish should beat Boston College and Wake Forest, and then if they can beat USC in the season finale (and if they can win convincingly at Oklahoma, why couldn't they win at USC?), there's a decent chance they get an invitation to the BCS title game. Notre Dame has surprised everyone so far, so why not surprise everyone again by playing for the national title?
With that, here's this week's game picks:
Let's play this game: Last week Alabama was favored by 9 points at LSU. If you swing the standard 3-point home-field advantage, LSU would have been about a 15-point underdog at Alabama last week. Would Texas A&M be a 1.5-point favorite over LSU on a neutral field? I don't think so. Last week the line was inflated. This week, it's not. Alabama's defense will do just fine against Johnny Manziel, and its offense won't be playing LSU's defense again.
TCU (+7) over Kansas State: The line assumes Collin Klein is probable to play, and that's fine. TCU should play them tough even if Klein is at full strength. If TCU avoids turnovers, which Kansas State thrives on, this will be a close game. TCU might even be able to pull off the straight-up win. And if that happens, TCU coach Gary Patterson should get even more just due as one of the best coaches in college football.
West Virginia (+10) at Oklahoma State: It's not easy to take West Virginia after three straight losses, but the Mountaineers do have the ability to score. They scored 38 in a loss to TCU last week. The Cowboys' defense might be a little underrated, but did give up 44 last week to Kansas State. West Virginia, if it hasn't totally given up on the season, will score enough to keep it somewhat close.
Washington (+1.5) over Utah: The Huskies are kind of like the NFL's Seahawks. They're a much better team in Seattle. Washington has already beaten Stanford and Oregon State at home. The Huskies' only home loss was a reasonably competitive game against USC. Utah was 2-5 before home wins against Cal and Washington State, which should impress nobody. Washington won't win pretty -- it never does -- but it will win.
Oregon State (+4) at Stanford: The Cardinal is using a new starting quarterback, Kevin Hogan, in a pretty big Pac-12 game. Oregon State has shown all season that it is legit, and getting more than a field goal is quite nice. Would you be that surprised if the Beavers won straight up? Not at all.
Last week: 4-1