Happy Thanksgiving, friends! With all due respect to the Fourth of July, what day can be more American than Thanksgiving? Founded on the principles of family, community and adventurism, Thanksgiving is a celebration of the strength that has made our nation great. It also serves as the unofficial kickoff of the holiday season, a month-long stretch of cheer that culminates in the undisputed best week of the year: Dec. 24-Jan. 1.
As an aside, I've never understood, nor felt, the pressures and stresses that some people experience around the holidays. I always get my shopping done in one day's time. The travel can be a bear, but that's nothing that a little spiced eggnog can't help. Moral of the story: don't worry, be happy this time of year.
But let's get to why we've gathered here today: a discussion of holiday football, and then a sharing of menus.
Thanksgiving college football is great for two main reasons. First, the games are usually part of a traditional series that evokes memories of past times spent with family, friends and delicious leftovers. Second, from a competitive standpoint, it's really the last full week of play, and what happens this weekend always has a big say in how the postseason shakes out.
This week we've got one of the best slates of college football I can remember, so sit back with a cool glass of ginger ale and take a look ahead with me.
Extra Points Top 10
Week 13 picks (12-8 last week, 119-117-5 through 12 weeks)
There are so many great games this week that we are going to preview 25 rather than our customary 20.
Texas A&M -4 at Texas: We've been expecting Texas to come up with a big effort like it did against Nebraska, but the Horns just don't have it this year. Meanwhile, the Aggies are enjoying their finest season in years and remain alive in the Big 12 South race. A&M 24-17
Louisville -3 at Rutgers: It's been a long, long year for Rutgers, a team that hasn't won a game since defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a tragic spinal cord injury in mid-October. Still, with wins over Louisville and at West Virginia, the Knights can get to six wins and become bowl-eligible. RU 27-24
West Virginia at Pittsburgh -3: Neither of these long-time rivals have had the type of season they envisioned back in August, but West Virginia and Pitt each enter the Backyard Brawl with a chance to win the Big East and play in a BCS game. One of the best rivalries in college football, this game is always a perennial post-holiday treat. The Mountaineers win this one with their defense. WVU 21-17
Auburn at Alabama -4.5: I've been going back and forth on this game, which is one of the biggest the South has seen in years. On one hand, I want to pick Auburn. The Tigers have been the better team all season and they'll have the best player on the field in Cam Newton. On the other hand, is this Alabama team really going to lose three games this season? Don't you just feel like the Tide will come up with a big effort at home against its greatest rival? 'Bama 34-24
Colorado at Nebraska -17.5: The Buffs are 2-0 since Dan Hawkins' firing and, with its loss at Texas A&M last week, Nebraska is now tied with Missouri for the Big 12 South, so this game is suddenly a lot more interesting. Neb 33-17
Arizona at Oregon -20: The Cats had a stinker against Southern Cal last time out, but they always play Oregon tough, so expect a close game with 'Zona quarterback Nick Foles putting a scare into the Autzen faithful. OU 33-28
Boise State -14 at Nevada: We can't wait for this one. Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick gets to showcase his unique run-and-throw talents on national television as he leads the 10-1 Wolfpack against BCS-hopeful Boise State. A year ago, Boise hosted Nevada in a similar scenario and broke out to a 27-3 lead, only to see the Pack storm back, before finally holding on to won a wild one, 44-33. The way Nevada came back in that game has to give it a lot of confidence this week. Boise 40-28
Boston College at Syracuse -3: Since losing five straight earlier in the season, BC has reeled off four consecutive wins and now visits the Carrier Dome to play an Orange team that is terrific on the road, but strangely inept at home. BC 24-14
South Florida at Miami -11.5: They've struggled in their big games, but the Canes have really taken care of lesser teams this season. Mia 34-16
Michigan State -1.5 at Penn State: Just a hunch here. The Spartans have overachieved slightly all year and the Lions have improved late in the season. PSU 23-19
Cincinnati at Connecticut -1.5: UConn is playing like the best team in the Big East right now. With consecutive wins over fellow conference contenders West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the Huskies might end up playing in the BCS, after all. UConn 28-17
Virginia at Virginia Tech -23.5: The entire body of work counts and the Hokies have no one to blame but themselves for the way they started the season, but Virginia Tech is easily one of the best 10 teams in the country right now. VT 34-14
Michigan at Ohio State -17: In years past, a brand-name one-loss team like Ohio State would be in the mix for a national championship berth. Not so in this season. Still, the Buckeyes have been very good all year and will be too much for defense-less Michigan. OSU 35-21
Kentucky at Tennessee -3: The Vols beat the 'Cats to complete their late-season winning streak and become bowl eligible. In Tyler Bray We Trust. Cue Rocky Top! UT 30-27
Northwestern at Wisconsin: Northwestern was dominated on the ground last week against Illinois. And now, here come the mighty Badgers. Better buckle your chinstraps. UW 41-21
BYU at Utah -9: These teams really hate each other, so the Utes won't miss an opportunity to run the score up a bit on a Cougars team that isn't as good as in years past. Utah 45-17
N.C. State -2.5 at Maryland: A win at Maryland puts N.C. State into the ACC Championship game. Quarterback Russell Wilson will make sure the 'Pack gets there. NC St. 27-23
Florida at Florida State -3: The Seminoles have never beaten Urban Meyer, but this is their chance because, for the first time in a long time, FSU has the advantage at quarterback. The Gators won't be so ready to lie down however. They know they can win this game in a number of ways, especially on special teams. FSU 28-24
LSU at Arkansas -4: What a dandy of a weekend it is in the SEC West. A day after the Iron Bowl, we'll be treated with LSU-Arkansas, the winner with its eye on a BCS game. Ark 31-23
South Carolina at Clemson: Speaking of mutual hate, the Gamecocks and Tigers always enjoy a chance to hit each other. South Carolina's prize bull of a back Marcus Lattimore is the difference this year. USC 20-17
Mississippi State -3 at Ole Miss: The 4-7 Rebels played one their best games of the year last week when they almost upset LSU. They'll try to carry over some momentum from that near-miss when they host Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Since entering the Top 25 three weeks ago, the Bulldogs have lost back to back games to Alabama and Arkansas. Dan Mullen's boys will finish the year with a big win. MSU 28-24
Oregon State at Stanford -14: Just when you think the Beavers are done, they stand up and beat Southern Cal by 30. Oregon State's big win might have actually been good for Stanford, as the cerebral Cardinal was surely focused all week in practice. Stan 34-17
Georgia Tech at Georgia -13: These rivals enter the game with a disappointing 11-11 combined record, but Georgia has clearly been the better team down the stretch. The Bulldog offense will put on a show against Tech. UGA 43-23
Notre Dame at USC: You've got to hand it to Brian Kelly and the Irish. Just when it looked like the Notre Dame season was over, the Irish turn to backup quarterback Tommy Reese and destroy good Utah and Army teams. While Rees has been impressive, it's really been the Irish defense that has stepped up, surrendering six points total in the last two contests. ND 28-24
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State -3: To me, the Sooners are like the super-Miami Hurricanes, i.e. they hammer lesser teams but wilt as soon as an opponent digs in and fights back. With the Big 12 South on the line, I think it's safe to say that the Oklahoma State Cowboys will have plenty of fight in them on Saturday. OSU 41-30
Cranston East -4 vs. Cranston West: The East Thunderbolts (6-4 overall, 3-4 Division I) come into the annual City of Cranston Turkey Bowl as winners of three straight, including last week's shocking 42-7 demolition of La Salle Academy. Meanwhile, West (4-5 overall, 2-5 Division I) has lost three straight, including last week's humbling 54-6 loss at Portsmouth. The Bolts will enjoy a momentum advantage, but that won't matter too much in a rivalry like this. In the end, East wins because senior quarterback Rob Reardon will refuse to lose. Make it four out of five in this series for Cranston East! CE 27-17
Moments of Levity
UMass men's basketball is 4-0 for the first time since 2001 when I was a sophomore and genuinely excited about the Steve Lappas era. I remember thinking at the time, "Bruiser Flint is gone and we finally have a legit Big East-level coach in here and, look, we're already 4-0!" Over the next four years, the Minutemen went 46-65 and never finished above third place in the Atlantic 10 East. So forgive me if I am tempering my excitement that good college basketball may have finally returned to western Massachusetts. That said, this team is starting to play how Derek Kellogg envisioned it -- tall, athletic and defensive-minded -- so it's exciting to see some positive results.
Here's what UMass basketball used to look like. Hopefully we can get that kind of passion back soon.
Then unsatisfied with the direction of my career, two years ago I decided to go back to school and pursue a Master's degree in Sports Business. I enrolled at New York University in Jan. 2009 and in a few weeks I will complete my degree. I've met a lot of great people, learned a ton about the business world, and suffice to say, I'm excited to start a new career. To anyone thinking about starting over professionally, be prepared to make some sacrifices in your life, but there's a good chance you'll come out on the other end in a happier, more fulfilled place.
I've been a staunch supporter of Theo Epstein over the years, consistently defending his approach to long-term team building. But I really didn't like the way he handled the Victor Martinez free-agency situation. For whatever reason, the Sox just didn't value what V-Mart brings to the table. So he probably won't be able to catch for four years. So what? In addition to being a serviceable, if limited, backstop, who actually calls a very good game, Martinez can also slide over and play first base or some designated hitter once Papi finally rides off into the sunset. Meanwhile, the guy is a very, very good offensive player. He's a switch-hitter at a premium position, loves hitting at Fenway and kills the Yankees. I really don't understand why they didn't make a better offer. I guess we'll see what Epstein has up his sleeve. It should be interesting.
Finally, let's get to the food. On the menu for Thanksgiving in Rhode Island:
Chicken escarole soup with mini-meatballs
Sweet potato puff (mashed sweet potatoes with coconut topped with pecan praline)
"Baked" mashed potatoes (made with sour cream and cream cheese)
Turnips and carrots with fennel
Turkey with stuffing
Green beans almondine
Pagoda (cream puff pastry)
I'll see you back in New York this weekend, most likely 6-7 pounds over playing weight. Enjoy the holiday!