September 09, 2008

Week 3: The Picks

Week three of the college football season is the week that just about everyone (well, outside of the Southeastern United States) has been waiting for. With four of the 7 or 8 winningest programs of all time getting ready to lock horns, there is going to be a lot of pomp and circumstance on the college gridiron this weekend. The Ohio State-USC game is the marquee game of the weekend, but the ND-Michigan game might have more long term implications for two of America's most storied programs. And if you love David and Goliath stories, that Wisconsin-Fresno State game could be special. If only Gus Johnson did college football games.....

I also wanted to welcome Dan aboard as a new contributor to the weekly picks column. Hope you enjoy his stuff. Never hurts to add another diehard college football fan into the mix, especially since Dan will probably bet on about half these games.

On to the picks.

Thursday September 11, 2008

North Carolina (+4.5) at Rutgers - (ESPN 7:30 pm)

Dan: Rutgers -4.5

Neither Rutgers nor North Carolina looked very impressive in their opening games with UNC barely beating 1-AA McNeese State and Rutgers losing badly at home to Fresno State. The interesting sub-story to this game is that it pits former UM head Coach Butch Davis against his former assistant Greg Schiano. North Carolina is a team on the rise with Butch Davis bringing in talented skill players like Notre Dame spurner Greg Little. Meanwhile, Rutgers may have reached it's peak over the last couple years. However, my inclination is that Rutgers just had a rough first game and Schiano will have them ready to bounce back in week 2 against a young Carolina team at home. Plus, all too often the pupil can get his team fired up to beat his former teacher. I'll take Rutgers to win and cover at home.

Rutgers 24 North Carolina 17

Matt: Rutgers -4.5

This is really a do or die game for Rutgers. They get shots at West Virginia or USF later on down the road, but having already gotten drubbed by Fresno, this is the one game they need to win to have any credibility. I'm not buying that Rutgers was a flash in the pan program for 2 years. I think Schiano is a helluva coach and Rutgers will maintain respectability for as long as he sticks around.

Big weekend for the Big East. With USF and Uconn now the only undefeated teams left after two weeks, the Big East needs to start racking up some quality wins. The fact that Uconn limped out of Lincoln Financial Field, not exactly Death Valley, with an overtime W against Temple, leads me to believe that USF is really the only legitimate Top 20 team in the conference this year.

Rutgers 31 UNC 20

Mike: UNC +4.5

The Scarlet Knights bombed in their opening debut against Fresno State at home, although the outcome might have been much differently but for several egregious errors in the kicking game by Rutgers in the first half. Like Rutgers, North Carolina struggled in its opener, although the Tar Heels managed to overcome their mistakes to beat McNeese State at home. Both teams are coming off bye weeks and I believe that both Greg Schiano and Butch Davis will each coax significant improvement out of their teams in this one.

Rutgers 24 UNC 21

Doug: Rutgers -4.5

Sort of fitting that the game on September 11 will be in the New York area. A battle of mediocre teams from the two worst BCS conferences in the country. I'm curious to see how North Carolina looks since we are playing them this year. They didn't exactly impress anyone with that squeaker win over McNeese State at home in week one.

Meanwhile, Rutgers is emerging as the Iowa of the Big East. They slowly built their way to respectability, peaked after a few years, and now appear to be steadily declining. Rutgers absolutely needs to get a win here and North Carolina gave up 400 yards of offense to McNeese State. I'll take Rutgers in a competitive game.

Rutgers 27 North Carolina 20

Friday September 12, 2008

Kansas (+3.5) at South Florida (ESPN2 8pm)

Dan: Kansas +3.5

USF! USF! USF! Sorry, a brief relapse into Spring Break in Key West. No one loves the ladies of USF more than this guy, but this is about the men, not the women. Here we have a matchup of the teams that should in no way be good, yet somehow are. The Big East has been atrocious in out of conference play so far, so it comes to USF to play stop gap to the Big East free fall. Meanwhile, Kansas continues to try and earn respect on the national level by playing…. USF??? While the Bulls topped out at #2 last year, last year was a unique year where no team wanted to hold on to a top 5 ranking. Despite their current top 20 rank, I don't expect them to finish there, despite Jim Leavitt, who is a coach on the rise. However, if I can get Mark Mangino, who is an even better coach, getting points against a USF, I'll take the points. Expect USF to try and contain the high powered Kansas offense with aggressive blitz packages. However, I think the experienced Reesing holds up and shows that Kansas's big time offense cannot be stopped by a small school defense.

Kansas 34, USF 24

Matt: USF -3.5

I mentioned above how big of a weekend this was for the Big East. USF can take a big step towards establishing some sort of legitimacy for the conference with a win over last year's Orange Bowl winner. I think they might have been looking ahead a little bit last week in their OT squeaker against UCF. And my Kansas friends will probably curse me, but I'm still not buying them as a program just quite yet. If they walk into Raymond James Stadium and beat the Bulls, I might become a believer. Side note, I hope the crowd has a little more energy than the pathetic display at last season's ND-USF basketball game. That showing from the Bulls faithful made Stanford fans look like rabid SEC fans.

USF 34 Kansas 24

Mike: USF -3.5

This is a fantastic Friday night matchup. Kansas has beat up on two tomato cans in the first two games, but they will experience a serious step-up in class this week at Raymond James Stadium. Meanwhile, USF preserved the Big East’s faint chance of fielding a national title contender this year by edging Central Florida in overtime. Although Todd Reesing has picked up right where he left off last year, the Jayhawks have struggled to move the ball on the ground. Despite its narrow escape last week in Orlando, USF is a very talented team and I expect them to be fired up for this one.

USF 35 Kansas 23

Doug: Kansas +3.5

Wow, very interesting game between two of the 2007 Cinderellas of the college football world. I really am not sure where to lean in this game, so I'll just take the points.

South Florida is a good team, but Kansas has really been a revelation the last two seasons. Their offense is so potent, and their defense is pretty darn good.

Kansas 27 South Florida 24

Saturday September 13, 2008

Arkansas (+24) at Texas (ABC 3:30 pm) -

Dan: Texas -24

Wow! Talk about disrespect. Arkansas (other than that game against USC a few years back) has been a relatively underrated team over the past few years. However, this is not the same Arkansas team from the past couple years. Despite returning Casey Dick, the Razorbacks have struggled against two I-AA opponents. On the other hand, Texas has dominated its two (inferior) opponents. Texas is one of the few teams that I don't mind taking huge favorites because over the past 10 years Mack Brown has made his living off whooping inferior opponents and losing to Oklahoma (until Vince "Hurting on the Inside" Young came along). Given the fact that Arkansas is still reeling from a couple dramatic off seasons and Texas is rolling so far, expect this game to look eerily similar to the USC at Arkansas game all over again.

Texas 45 Arkansas 17


Being the last of my colleagues to pick, I have the advantage of writing this after today's announcement that the game has been canceled to due Hurricane Ike. Rather than make jokes about Bobby Petrino's 5 point combined margin of victory against Western Illinois and ULM, I'll just wish the state of Texas best wishes in dealing with the impending hurricane.

Mike: Arkansas +24

Arkansas avoided severe embarrassment for the second straight week by staging a thrilling late comeback against UL-Monroe in a “road game” at Little Rock last week. Texas has not needed any such dramatics in either game, as the Longhorns have blown out both of their opponents. Obviously, this is a huge mismatch on paper, but I believe that Bobby Petrino and the Hogs will find a way to keep the game relatively close by passing the ball effectively against a young Texas secondary.

Texas 40 Arkansas 24

Doug: Arkansas +24

Is Texas for real this year?? They've looked pretty impressive in their first two games. Colt McCoy is my fantasy QB, so I've been playing close attention to him so far. I think Colt McCoy is in the process of making the leap this year, so Texas could be in for a surprisingly good year.

Arkansas has been a near disaster in their first two games of the Bobby Petrino era, but something tells me that they will be ready for this game at Texas. It's a rivalry game, and I feel like Petrino will have a couple tricks up his sleeve. Casey Dick is back for yet another year at Arkansas, so they have some pieces to rely on offensively. I have absolutely no reason to pick Arkansas since they've played poorly against two I-AA teams, but I think they can cover the 24 points.

Texas 31 Arkansas 10

Iowa State (+13.5) at Iowa (Big Ten Network 12pm) -

Dan: Iowa State +13.5

The battle for the Hawkeye state pride does not really promise much in the way of good football. Both teams have dominated some pretty poor competition in their first two games, but neither really have valid aspirations of competing for their respective conferences. Iowa is relatively clearly the more talented team as Ferentz has done a good job of bringing talent to Iowa City. However, this game generally tends to be closer than it should. Despite the fact that the Hawkeyes are hosting the game, I'll take +13.5 points in a bitter rivalry game more often than not. Ferentz really needs a good season to silence the rumblings of "Overrated", and he continues here with another win, but Iowa State covers.

Iowa 24 Iowa State 17

Matt: Iowa State +13.5

Something seems a little odd about this line. Rivalry game, both teams decidedly mediocre, and both 2-0 after beating up on the dregs of college football. Since I don't profess to know a whole lot about either team, I'll just take points and move on.

Iowa 28 Iowa State 17

Mike: Iowa State +13.5

In the “Cy-Hawk” game, which is always one of my favorite rivalry games, each team will face its first true opponent in 2008. The Hawkeyes, albeit against Florida International, appear to have found a real quarterback in Ricky Stanzi, who performed well in place of deposed starter Jake Christiansen. Across the state, Gene Chizik and ISU were gashed by a Kent State team that was shutout by BC in their opening game, but the Cyclones were able to run the ball effectively and force 4 turnovers en route to a 48-28 team. Although Iowa is the more talented team here, Iowa State has covered the spread in this game each of the last four years and they will do it again in 2008.

Iowa 31 Iowa State 21

Doug: Iowa State +13.5

I don't know squat about Iowa State, but they have been getting steadily better and better since the second half of last season under new coach Gene Chizik. They beat Kansas State and Colorado down the stretch last year, and they've come out of the gate putting up points this year. I know that Iowa wants revenge in this game, but I feel like Iowa State can hang around and make things uncomfortable.

Iowa 23 Iowa State 13

Oregon (-7.5) at Purdue (ABC 3:30pm) -

Dan: Purdue +7.5

In the less heralded Big 10 v. Pac 10 game of the week, the Ducks visit West Lafayette to take on a Boilermaker team on a farewell tour for one of the best mustache sporters in the sports world. Expect a shoot out where the over is probably a better bet than either team. However, I think Purdue will keep it close enough to cover thanks to 300+ video clips of Joe Tiller on the Jumbo Tron in Ross Ade beseeching the crowd to "Boiler Up!"

Oregon 35 Purdue 28

Matt: Oregon -7.5

Credit Oregon for heading east once again. Although the Dennis Dixon era is over, it really doesn't seem like the Oregon offense has missed a beat. After two weeks, they have the nation's #1 ranked offense averaging 55 points a game. Purdue, meanwhile, has Curtis Painter back for what seems like his 7th season. I just don't really think they are ready for the speed that Oregon is going to bring to the field. It seems like Mike Belotti has found his recruiting niche out west, where they get a lot of the speed guys that don't go to USC. Look for Purdue gets blown out.

Oregon 45 Purdue 24

Mike: Oregon -7.5

An intriguing matchup here, as Oregon has scored a boatload of points in their first two games and Purdue features an offense that could be explosive with Curtis Painter at the helm. The Ducks are simply rolling right now and I expect them to have their way with the Boilermakers defense. In addition, Oregon’s tremendous secondary should neutralize Purdue’s pass-oriented offense en route to a big win at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Oregon 45 Purdue 24

Doug: Oregon -7.5

FREE MONEY!! Maybe the easiest pick I've made all year, and I honestly couldn't wait to pick this game before the season started. Because I get to watch Purdue 3-4 times a year, I know all I need to know about them. They are the same team every year. Basketball on grass but limited playmaking ability, not a whole lot of talent, and a soft defense that can give up yards and points to anyone. I'm not trying to knock Purdue because I think Joe Tiller gets more out of the personnel at Purdue than just about anyone in the country, but they are a limited program. When they play really good teams, they have a meltdown.

Oregon is a really good team, and they looked about as good as anyone in the country in their opener against Washington. I don't know where Oregon finds these athletes, but they seem to have a ton of speed. Their guys were just blowing by the Washington defenders every time they got the ball. I think Oregon can score at will against Purdue, and I'm expecting a huge blowout. Purdue will be excited heading into this game, but I can't see them hanging with the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Big 10, this game will only add fuel to the "Big 10 is a dinosaur" crowd, especially since Oregon destroyed Michigan on the road last year.

Oregon 31 Purdue 7

Wisconsin (-1.5) at Fresno State (ESPN2 10:30pm) -

Dan: Wisconsin -1.5

Vegas must like Fresno State more than I do to only give them +1.5 at home against a top 10 team. Wisconsin is never pretty, but they just win football games. Granted, Fresno State went on the road and dismantled Rutgers in their first game of the season, but anything can happen in Week 1. Behind another strong performance to P.J. Hill, Wisconsin should be able to control the clock and flow of the game against an out-matched Fresno State defense, particularly if Travis Beckum returns from his Hamstring injury. Wisconsin has struggled in their first road game in recent years, but I expect them to hold on in a close, low scoring affair.

Wisconsin 17 Fresno State 14

Matt: Fresno State +1.5

To anyone who knows me, this should come as no surprise, as I have been know to worship at the altar of Pat Hill. When they first started making noise several years ago, it was a case of coaching up a group of guys to collectively compete with the big boys. But since then, and with the notoriety, has come a dramatic increase in the caliber of players that are coming to Fresno. I would think that if you stuck Fresno State in the Pac-10 they would be a perennial contender for 2nd place.

On the other hand, the jury is still out on the Big 10. It's rare to see any team hitting the road to play a non-BCS team, let alone one as proven as Fresno State, so for that I applaud Wisconsin. I'm sure Pat Hill worked the phones for hundreds of hours with a ton of other schools before he locked this game in. For that reason, I think Fresno State will be fired up, I think the fans will be fired up, and I think Fresno pulls off the upset.

Fresno State 24 Wisconsin 21

Mike: Wisconsin -1.5

Another great matchup here between two teams that have staged some exciting games in the past. Wisconsin’s bruising running game powered through Marshall last week and Fresno’s front seven will have their hands full against Hill, Clay and Brown. The Bulldogs, however, who are coming off a bye week, should be characteristically prepared and motivated by Coach Pat Hill. In a well played and exciting game, the Badgers will pull out a huge road win in the Valley.

Wisconsin 31 Fresno State 28

Doug: Fresno State +1.5

This game is intriguing on so many levels:

1) It's the first "big" game for Wisconsin, who could be a darkhorse pick for the BCS Championship game. It's a typical Wisconsin team with a strong running game and a strong defense, but we've seen Wisky trip up on the road in the past.

2) It's a huge statement game for Fresno State if they are looking to be a BCS buster (I hate that term, but everyone is familiar with it) this year. After playing Rutgers in the opener, the fighting Pat Hills look like they are legit. Fresno has never shied away from playing big games, so they won't be intimidated by Wisconsin. Fresno State has talent. If you took the personnel that Fresno State has and put them in Cal or UCLA uniforms, no one would know the difference. Pat Hill is an outstanding coach, and Fresno has proven that they can play with anyone.

3) How rare is it to see a big time program head out on the road to pay a so-called mid-major?? It's very unusual in college football, so this game is a bit of a treat in that respect.

4) It's a HUGE game for the Big 10 yet again. The Big 10 really needs this win. When you consider that Ohio State might get blown out at SC and all the other problems of the league, a loss by Wisconsin to Fresno would not be pretty.

I just plowed through a few articles about this game, and it's being talked about as the biggest game in Fresno State history. The locals are FIRED UP, and I'm expecting a raucous crowd. I absolutely love that this game is at 10:15 pm. There will be nothing better than seeing Fresno pull of the shocker in the wee hours of the morning on the east coast.

Fresno State 31 Wisconsin 24

Georgia (-7) at South Carolina (CBS 3:30pm) -

Dan: South Carolina +7

I'd love to take a push on this game. A touchdown feels about right. South Carolina under Spurrier has almost always upset at least 1 higher ranked team per year, and usually lost a couple close ones as well. While I don't expect this one to be the upset, I do think this smells like a close one. This game feels like one that will be close down to the wire with South Carolina driving at the end of the game looking for a touchdown to tie. However, Georgia holds and continues its drive towards its goal of running the table. However, since we can't take the push, I'll go with South Carolina driving to win and just falling short.

Georgia 28 South Carolina 24

Matt: Georgia -7

Am I missing something here? I know it's an SEC road game, which should never be taken lightly, but we're talking about a USC team that just lost to Vandy! A team that has shown prescious few signs of turning the corner under Steve Spurrier. I don't think Georgia is running the SEC gauntlet, and I'm a little concerned about the injuries piling up, but no way are Knowshon and Matt Stafford losing this game.

Georgia 45 USC 17

Mike: Georgia -7

This represents the first of many difficult games for the Bulldogs, who must travel to Columbia and Tempe in consecutive weeks. While South Carolina performed poorly again on offense, Steve Spurrier, Jr. (a/k/a “The New Ball Coach”) found some potential playmakers in Mike Davis and tight end Jared Cook. Georgia has manhandled its first two foes behind the running of Knowshon Moreno, but they will face a stern test this week against a physical South Carolina defense. The Gamecocks will hang tough for most of the game before eventually succumbing to a superior foe.

Georgia 24 South Carolina 14

Doug: South Carolina +7

It's Georgia! It's South Carolina! It's Verne! It's Gary! Live from Columbia, South Carolina only on CBS Sports!! Gotta love the debut of the CBS college football telecast. Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson are my favorite broadcasting duo of all time, so those of you who are lucky enough to be at home tuning into this game are in for a treat. Verne delivers the action like no one else in the business and makes no apologies about loving all things SEC, and I can't wait to see what Gary Danielson has in store for us this year. He's probably been sleeping with the Georgia and South Carolina film under his pillow for the last month. Would it surprise anyone if he accurately predicts the first three playcalls from Georgia??

I've watched South Carolina twice now and haven't been particularly impressed with them, but I'm always leery of giving up a lot of points to a home underdog in the SEC. South Carolina plays well at home, and they beat Georgia last year on the road.

I haven't had a chance to see Georgia play yet, but it seems like they are a little banged up. I know they probably want to make a statement in this game, but South Carolina is in the same position after losing to Vandy. Tough game to call, but I'll take the home team to cover.

Georgia 24 South Carolina 20

Penn State (-27) at Syracuse (ABC 3:30pm) -

Dan: Penn State - 27

I have a couple thoughts on this game. Syracuse is not a good football team. Penn State likes to beat bad football teams by a lot of points. It won its first two games by an average of 44 points. Meanwhile, Syracuse lost to Northwestern and Akron by an average of 17 points. Given the fact that Jim Boeheim is not coming out of the tunnel at the Carrier Dome, I don't expect a rocking home atmosphere. Despite the team drama in Happy Valley, they should continue their dominance against a severely outmatched Syracuse team. If Greg Robinson loses by 40 points at home to Penn State, will the AD pull the trigger on him before the Big East season even starts? I don't think so, but the race is on between Robinson and Lionel to see who gets canned first.

Penn State 55 Syracuse 17

Matt: Penn State -27

This may be the toughest game of the week to pick for me. On the one hand, Penn State is playing on the road, and there's a good chance that Joe Pa will have to kick someone off the team on the plane/bus ride up to Syracuse. On the other hand, Syracuse is so god awful that I might have picked Penn State if the line was 37. You have to think that if the Cuse was ever going to circle the wagons, this would be it. But I don't think they will. Greg Robinson will not be the coach of the Orange for their next game. Mark it down.

Penn State 52 Syracuse 10

Mike: Syracuse +27

In the first two weeks, Penn State has looked like one of the best teams in college football. On the other hand, it is simply a matter of when, rather than if, Greg Robinson will be fired as head coach of the Orange following their pitiful home loss to Akron. Nonetheless, there is a strong possibility that several more Penn State starters will get arrested this week in Happy Valley, thus allowing the Orange to earn the cover before a Dome crowd that will be teeming with Nittany Lion fans.

Penn State 41 Syracuse 21

Doug: Syracuse +27

27 points is absurdly high for a Penn State program that has absolutely stunk on the road, but Syracuse is also maybe the worst D-I program in the country at this point. Penn State might be for real. They have a potent rushing attack. To say that I have been pleased with Evan Royster as my #2 fantasy RB would be an understatement. I think Syracuse can find a way to cover here at home, but I don't think they have any shot at making this game competitive.

If I was the school president at Syracuse, not only would I have fired Gregg Robinson in the locker room after the Akron game, I would have fired the AD as well (assuming it's not Boeheim or something like that). If the AD had enough confidence in Gregg Robinson to give him another season at Syracuse, then obviously has no idea how to manage a football program or identify a quality coach. The first call I would make at Syracuse is to Al Golden. The Big East is there for the taking, and Golden could rebuild that program.

Penn State 34 Penn State 10

Georgia Tech (+7) at Virginia Tech (ABC 3:30pm) -

Dan: Virginia Tech -7

Virginia Tech is a different team now that Tyrod Taylor took off the red shirt. I know it was against Furman, but he averaged 8 yards a carry last week. I'll bet Frank Beamer wishes he hadn't decided to go with one quarterback to start the season. Georgia Tech meanwhile is coming of a big in win in their ACC opener on the road against BC. I think GT might be a little low on gas after their 4th quarter comeback last week. While I do really like the Paul Johnson hire, I don’t think his team can get it done on the road two weeks in a row. Especially not against a VT team with something to prove after the surprise loss two weeks ago to ECU.

VT 20 GT 10

Matt: Georgia Tech +7

So far so good for the Paul Johnson era. I will say this though - there is no way Frank Beamer is losing this game in Blacksburg. The Virginia Tech money line is my lock of the week. I think Beamer tried to get a little too cute by trying to get away with putting an extra year between Glennon and Taylor, and it came back to cost them a game. Look for GT to have the lead late in Blacksburg, but a big play from Ty Taylor gives the Hokies the W.

Virginia Tech 28 GT 24

Mike: Georgia Tech +7

Paul Johnson is off to a great start at Georgia Tech, as his Yellow Jackets moved to 2-0 with a gritty win over Boston College last Saturday. For the Hokies, Frank Beamer, faced with an offensive crisis, was forced to scrap his plan to redshirt QB Tyrod Taylor. Instead, Taylor will again split time with Sean Glennon as part of a two quarterback system. I still think that the Hokies will navigate their way through a weak ACC with strong special teams and defense. Although I love the triple option, Georgia Tech may experience continued growing pains with their new offense like they did last week in Chestnut Hill. They will, however, manage to cover the seven point spread.

Virginia Tech 16 Georgia Tech 13

Doug: Georgia Tech +7

It makes me a little nervous to take anyone after a breakthrough win, but I'm a believer in the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Paul Johnson is a Michaelangelo (to borrow a Dickie V line) on that sideline, and I don't see any reason why they can't hang with Virginia Tech. The fighting Frank Beamers are going to be looking to get the taste of the ECU loss out of their mouths and get a quality win under their belt, but they have some serious QB issues.

If it becomes evident that Weis is not the long term answer at Notre Dame (and I don't think we're even close to that point yet), the first call I would make as AD would be to Paul Johnson. He is an outstanding coach, a classy guy, brilliant strategist and motivator, proved at Navy and likely at Georgia Tech that he can build a program, and would be be a great representative of the university. In other words, he's Urban Meyer without the negative baggage. I think he would be a homerun at ND.

Virginia Tech 17 Georgia Tech 16

NC State (+19) at Clemson (Raycom 12pm) -

Dan: Clemson -19

Both these teams were whooped by SEC opponents in week 1 and rebounded against D1-AA opponents. While the loss to Alabama pushed Clemson from the top ten to outside the top 25 in the AP poll, they are still a powerful team. The way overused tandem of "Thunder and Lightning" should still put a hurt on an NC State defense that gave up 171 rushing yards to South Carolina and 115 to William & Mary. If Clemson does not get greedy and keeps the ball on the ground and just pounds away at NC State, they should pull away by the 4th quarter.

Clemson 38 NC State 17

Matt: Clemson -19

Even a game against too many Mary's and not enough William's was not enough to cure NC State. Starter Daniel Evans was ineffective and Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck had to come in and rescue them from the utter embarassment of losing at home to a 1-AA team. As it is, a 10 point victory doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the job that Tom O'Brien is doing. The locals down here are not very high on right now on the program, but I think part of that is the talent that was leftover by Chuck Amato was not all that great. Having said all that, I don't think this team has nearly enough to hang with Clemson. I'm sure Tommy Bowden is savoring his chance to go on his annual job-saving run.

Clemson 46 NC State 17

Mike: NC State +19

Now that the expectations have been removed from Clemson, it should be time from Tommy Bowden to start his annual job-saving late run. Unfortunately, Clemson has been bitten by the injury bug and, as a result, they will start three freshmen on the offensive line, which is never a recipe for success. NC State is not a good team right now, especially on offense, but Tom O’Brien will have his team playing hard this week.

Clemson 24 NC State 10

Doug: Clemson -19

What is going on at NC State?? Is Tom O'Brien going to find himself in trouble if they don't start showing some life down in Raleigh?? I'm not sold on Clemson as a great team by any stretch, but it's a home game in Death Valley with an experienced Clemson team. I haven't seen anything out of NC State to convince me that they can hang with anyone let alone Clemson on the road, so give me the Tigers.

Clemson 30 NC State 7

Oklahoma (-20) at Washington (ESPN 7:45pm) -

Dan: Oklahoma -20

If there is one gambling rule I follow, it is always bet against Willingham. Another good rule is that if a university administrator has to step up to the defense of a coach during the week, they are usually in trouble. Throw in the fact that they are coming off a heartbreaking last minute loss against a ranked BYU team last week, and this has all the makings of a complete blow out. As Doug has mentioned already, Ty is good for 1 or 2 unexpected covers a year. When that happens, he is almost certain to follow that up with a complete dud. Throw in the fact that Oklahoma remembers the game last year that was closer than it should have been (17 points) and that the Sooners are averaging 55 points a game, and Husky fans are in for a long Saturday.

Oklahoma 45 Washington 10

Matt: Oklahoma -20

Bob Stoops is kind enough to stop in to Seattle to pay his respects on the Tyrone Willingham Farewell Tour. While I don't necessarily agree with the unsportsmanlike penalty last week, the fact remains that the Washington offensive line parted like the Red Sea on the PAT. That sucker would have been blocked from 2 yards, 25 yards, or 55 yards away. Maybe that will encourage Ty to bring back the swinging gate? I think Oklahoma goes easy on the Huskies once they reach half a hundred, and I won't be shocked if Jake Locker puts a few scores on the board.

Oklahoma 57 Washington 20

Mike: Washington +20

It will be interesting to see how Washington will respond after a crushing home defeat to BYU in which the Huskies were victimized by a terrible unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final seconds. Despite a marked talent edge, there is a chance that the Sooners will be affected by a combination of overconfidence and a cross-country trip to Seattle. Look for the Huskies, behind Jake Locker, to earn a narrow cover for their lame duck coach.

Oklahoma 41 Washington 24

Doug: Oklahoma -20

I'm sort of tempted to take Washington here because Washington is always frisky early in the year (especially at home), but I will be kicking myself if I get over to Between the Buns at around 8:15 pm and OU is already up 17-0 in the second quarter. Washington went "all in" for that BYU game, and it is a Willingham trademark to let down after a game like that.

Oklahoma is a little flaky on the road and lost last year on the road to Colorado and Texas Tech, but I can't take Washington here. OU is a top 5 team with a virtually unstoppable offense, and Washington stinks. This game sounds interesting in theory, but it also feels similar to the Ohio State-Washington game from last year. Once OSU got settled into the game, they blew the doors off Washington. The Huskies have no speed and no o-line, so the Sooners should roll in this game.

Finally, Willingham or not, that celebration penalty on Jake Locker last week was complete nonsense. I'm not normally one to get riled up about officials unless they try to get too involved in the game, but Locker was clearly just trying to get rid of the ball so that he could celebrate with his teammates. He wasn't trying to show anyone up. His team just tied the game, and he was excited. I think you need to use a little discretion there when you consider the moment and that he's just a kid who probably wasn't thinking clearly after scoring a huge touchdown to potentially tie the game. It was a completely unnecessary call, and it cost Washington the game. I'm ok with an excessive celebration penalty when it is a choreographed dance or some sort of blatant showmanship, but tossing the ball behind you so that you can hug your teammate?? Cmon, that is ridiculous.

Oklahoma 35 Washington 13

UCLA (+9) at BYU (Versus 3:30pm) -

Dan: UCLA +9

BYU barely beat a terrible Washington team. UCLA, on the other hand, beat a pretty decent Tennessee team in its last game. Neuheisel happened to get lucky enough to back into arguably the best DC/OC combo in the country (after convincing Walker to stay and Chow to join them). Additionally, Neuheisel teams have a reputation for starting very quickly out of the gate and fading as the season goes on. I'm not convinced that this BYU team is the real deal yet. If this were last week, with UCLA coming right off that Tennessee game, I might feel more comfortable with BYU. However, UCLA has had a week off to refocus, and get themselves fired up for a road trip to Provo. I think the aggressive UCLA defense can keep this one close enough to make it interesting in the 4th quarter. While I am not ready to predict a complete upset, I definitely think they have enough to cover. I won't be surprised if they win outright though. In fact, the moneyline (about +290) is certainly an intriguing bet.

BYU 17 UCLA 13

Matt: UCLA +9

Hmm, another interesting line. BYU is at home, but they struggled to beat a terrible Washington team. Meanwhile, I was flat out impressed with how UCLA looked in the second half against Tennessee two weeks ago. I think the Norm Chow / Rick Neuheisel combo is headed for big things in Westwood. What the hell, I'll take UCLA straight up.

UCLA 31 BYU 28

Mike: UCLA +9

BYU swept this series last year, winning by 10 in Provo and blocking a 28 yard FG for a one-point win in the Las Vegas Bowl. Although a Pac 10 team is rolling into town this week, it is possible that the Cougars will be flat after defeating Washington in thrilling fashion. With an extra week of preparation, UCLA’s tremendous coaching staff should have the underrated Bruins ready to play. In a relatively big upset, BYU’s BCS-busting dreams will go down the drain this week.

UCLA 24 BYU 21

Doug: UCLA +9

I really like UCLA in this game. Neuheisel has put together a great staff, they've had a week off to get ready for this game, and it's not like BYU is some juggernaut here. BYU was very lucky to get by Washington last week. It's time to start thinking of UCLA as a potential power because that's where I think they are headed. I don't know if they will pull this game out, but I like them to cover. Things are looking up in Westwood.

By the way, I can't imagine the pressure that Phil Fulmer is under after blowing that UCLA game a couple weeks ago. They gave that game away, and now the questions about Fulmer are popping up almost immediately. Whenever this guy doesn't have David Cutcliffe running the offense, his team falls apart.

UCLA 27 BYU 20

Cal (-14) at Maryland (ESPN 12pm) -

Dan: Cal -14

Cal looked dominant in its Pac 10 opener against WSU and held on to beat an underrated MSU team in Week 2. Maryland on the other hand lost to MTSU (Middle Tennessee State) last week. Cross country travel can certainly take its toll on a team (See: Tennessee the past 2 years), but I don't think it will have much effect on this Cal team. USC already embarrassed 1 ACC team and I expect Cal to produce another decisive, although not as dominant, win this weekend. Cal will probably get off to a slow start but by the time the 4th quarter rolls around the game will be in hand. Unfortunately for the fans in College Park, the Fridge is no longer the premier fat coach in the country. That title now resides in Lawrence.

Cal 34 Maryland 10

Matt: Cal -14

As a newly christened Wake Forest fan, it pains me to see scores like Maryland 14 Middle Tennessee 24. Although I have to suspect that many Maryland fans have been seeing this coming for some time. It seems like Ralph Friedgen has had the Terps on a downward trajectory ever since that 2001 Orange Bowl appearance. Almost a Larry Coker situation where he did big things with inherited players and has since struggled. I'm not saying it's easy to win at Maryland or that they should be looking to make a change. Look at the situation now at Minnesota where they fired Glen Mason, who won his 6-8 games every year. The grass isn't always greener...

Cal 38 Maryland 10

Mike: Cal -14

In a tremendous mismatch, the Golden Bears will arrive in College Park brimming with confidence after their 66-3 domination of Washington State. The Terrapins are licking their wounds after a woeful 24-14 defeat against Middle Tennessee State in which Maryland again failed to sustain any drives on offense. Ralph Friedgen’s large seat is about to get hotter after this one.

Cal 35 Maryland 10

Doug: Cal -14

Cal appears to be underrated, and Maryland is terrible. I see no reason why the Bears won't roll in this game. What happened to Maryland by the way?? They were half decent within the last two years or so, but completely fell apart and now are losing to I-AA teams. Is it Friedgen?? Is it bad luck?? If there is a Maryland fan reading this blog, I'd appreciate your diagnosis. I still remember betting on them last year in Vegas and watching them completely lay an egg. Ugh.

I don't know which conference is worse between the ACC and the Big East. Wake Forest is maybe the best team in the ACC, and they barely got by Ole Miss (one of the worst teams in the SEC) at home.

I'd still give the nod to the Big East though. When the best team in your league gets throttled by East Carolina and the second best team barely gets by Central Florida, you got problems. The Big East doesn't deserve a BCS bid this year.

Cal 30 Maryland 10

Ohio State (+11) at USC (ABC 8pm) -

Dan: USC -11

Am I missing something? Isn't this the same tOSU team that has been shellacked by LSU and UF in the last two national title games? Aren't they still starting Todd Boeckman at quarterback? While tOSU may be 11-2 in their last 13 games against ranked opponents, that number is grossly inflated due to wins against overrated (ranked) Big Ten opponents. Their best player, Beanie Wells does not seem to be at full strength. Unless Terrelle Pryor turns into Vince Young, I don't expect this game to be close. Even if TP does get significant playing time, I think that USC's linebacking core will be able to contain him. At the end of the day, there are 3 certainties in life right now: Death, Taxes, and USC whooping out of conference opponents (sans Vince "Hurting on the Inside" Young). Expect another big out of conference win for the Trojans.

USC 31 tOSU 14

Matt: USC -11

Will Beanie play or won't he. He has just been downgraded to doubtful, which is about what my Magic 8 Ball says are the prospects of Ohio State pulling off this upset. I didn't think they were winning even if he was healthy though, let me make that clear. Too much speed on the field wearing USC colors. Isn't this shaping up to be a repeat of the Florida and LSU games? I know Tressel would never do this, but I think the Vest should play Terrelle Pryor early and often. There isn't a whole lot of tape on him, he brings that big play ability to the field, and he is obviously talented enough to play right now. Tressel will probably be content to try to play the field position game and pad punter A.J. Trapasso's numbers.

USC 31 Ohio State 17

Mike: Ohio State +11

Playing without Beanie Wells against in-state “rival” Ohio, the Buckeyes played three quarters of uninspired football before finally putting the Bobcats away. Although Tressel and company should be tight lipped regarding Wells’s status, I believe that Beanie will start, and play well, against the Trojans. There is no debating that USC looked tremendous against Virginia, but this will be a stern test against an extremely talented OSU team. In an upset special, I think the Buckeyes will defy the critics and defeat USC at the Coliseum.

Ohio State 28 USC 24

Doug: USC -11

Since I haven't had a chance to discuss the Buckeyes on the blog yet this season, let's dive into the big issues surrounding the Buckeyes in 2008:

1) The whole "Beanie Wells is soft" discussion that has been going around Columbus the last couple weeks is a little silly on the surface when you consider that Beanie Wells had an outstanding sophomore season playing with several injuries and carried the Buckeyes for a good chunk of the year, but it really is not as ludicrous as it sounds.

As great as Beanie is, he's also a bit of a drama queen at times. He's one of those guys who always gets up real slow from the pile, and Tressel is constantly in his ear about playing through bangs and bruises. The guy banged a toe in the Youngstown State game, and he's caling for the cart! I thought he blew out his ACL or something, and it turned out to be a bruised toe. I think Beanie is going to be fine for USC, but I'm expecting a few more Beanie Wells injury dramas this year. Beanie and the Ohio State running game are critical in this game. Ohio State is going to have to move the ball on the ground to keep USC from teeing off on Boeckman.

And yes, I'm already dreading the idea of the Cincinnati Bengals drafting Beanie with their top five pick in April's draft. Just kill me now.

2) The other big controversey around the Buckeyes is Terrelle Pryor and his involvement with the Ohio State offense. If you turn on Chris Spielman's radio show for even a few minutes, you are guaranteed to hear a minimum of five calls from fans wanting Tressel to start Terrelle Pryor for the USC game. Not sure where I stand on this debate since I haven't had much of a chance to watch the Buckeyes, but it's out there and probably doesn't do a whole lot for Todd Boeckman's already fragile confidence.

3) Speaking of Todd Boeckman, as much as fans have hoped that Boeckman's slump down the stretch last year would go away, it appears that his struggles are here to stay. Boeckman has lost his confidence. Every time he gets under pressure, he gets the happy feet and chucks the ball up for grabs. While Ohio State has a very good team, they need Todd Boeckman to revert back to being an effecient quarterback for them to have a successful season. Todd Boeckman is never going to be a game changer at QB, but he can't be a liability. It's definitely something to keep an eye on, and the calls for Pryor to start will start getting louder if Boeckman lays an egg in Los Angeles.

4) I think the key to this game for Ohio State is on the defensive side of the ball. For all the fuss about Lauranatis and Ohio State's defense the last couple years, they really have not had much success stopping good offenses. OSU's defense is really not all that physical, and LSU did whatever they wanted in the Sugar Bowl last year. If they wanted to run it, Hester would rip off 8 yards. If LSU wanted to throw, Flynn had all day to find somebody open.

I don't want to bang on James Lauranaitis, but why is everyone so in love with this guy?? Has he ever made a game-changing play in a big game?? I haven't seen enough big plays out of Ohio State's defensive personnel in the last couple years to convince me that it's a championship caliber defense.

If Ohio State wants to have a shot in this game, they are going to need a super aggressive defensive game plan. The Buckyes had an aggressive defense under Mark Dantonio in Tressel's first couple years, but they have been more conservative and less physical since he left. They are going to need to find ways to get pressure on Sanchez, force bad decisions, and shut down USC's running attack. Unfortunately, I'm not sure Ohio State has the personnel on their d-line to dominate this game defensively.

5) The amazing thing about USC is that they are talking about this game like it's just another game, and yet you KNOW they will come out cranking. Every game for USC is a big game, and they benefit from playing a tough schedule. For Ohio State, the USC game is probably the biggest regular season game in 5+ years at least, and everyone is extremely uptight. Just two totally different approaches that mirror the two coaching staffs.

This is the fourth football season I've lived in Columbus, and I've never seen this fanbase more pessimistic about a game than it is going into this game with USC. I don't think anyone I know is giving the Buckeyes any shot in this game. There is a little bit of a 2002 Miami feel here, but I don't think the Buckeyes have the same type of personnel and game plan that they'll need to hang around. USC is an absolute beast at home, they have the best defense in the nation, and they are going to play extremely physical and go after Boeckman as many times as possible. USC creates all kinds of matchup problems for Ohio State on both sides of the ball. Ohio State is going to be inspired and play very hard, but they don't have a premier QB or enough gamebreakers on offense or defense to win this game.

Throw in the problems in the Big 10 in big games, and it just feels like one of those games where it's 21-3 in the second quarter and Brent Musberger is shouting "It's a footrace!!" every time Joe McKnight touches the ball. Ohio State has nothing to be ashamed of if they get beat in this game. They have had great success the last five years, but they've been in the unfortunate position of losing to the very best teams in the nation (Texas '05, Florida '07, LSU '08, USC '08). Tressel has been recruiting like crazy the last couple years, so I think Ohio State will be in good position to close the talent gap in the next couple years.

USC 30 Ohio State 17

Michigan at Notre Dame (NBC 3:30pm) -

Dan: Michigan

I am so torn about this game. Michigan has been really bad in two games. Notre Dame has only been bad in one. However, I did not see much in the game against SDSU to prove to me that things have changed this years. Yes, Clausen is better. Yes, Floyd and Tate could be superstars. But, most importantly, the two aspects that I worry the most about did not show the necessary improvement to show me that we can beat a good team. The offensive and defense lines continue to disappoint. We couldn’t get pressure against a patchwork, undersized, and under talented line. Granted, SDSU threw almost entirely 3 step drops, but the D-Line wasn't the reason for that. As for the offensive line, while they pass blocked well, I did not see any proof of development in the run game against what has to be the worst D-Line in Division 1. Now, ND is faced with a very talented Defense that looked much better later in the game against Utah. Meanwhile, the UM Offense has been a complete disaster. If ND does not get at least 2 take always this weekend, I will be completely distraught with the future of our defense. While our D-Line is questionable, I have at least some confidence in the Linebacker core and the defensive secondary has the potential to be "nasty". Combine that with UM's offense, and we should be able to keep the game close. However, at the end of the game, I think the difference will be that ND's offense still can't run the ball and UM's defense is better than ND's. I will take UM to win at Notre Dame.

Matt: Notre Dame

As Doug and Jeremy have pointed out earlier in the week, ND really didn't play that poorly against SDSU. There were just too many mistakes. Meanwhile, Michigan looked flat out awful against Utah, and though I didn't see the game, 16 points against the other Miami doesn't impress too many people. Undoubtedly I'm wearing blue and gold colored goggles with this prediction, but I think we get pressure on Threet, have some big plays on offense, and one defensive/special teams TD. Big Irish win.

ND 24 Michigan 13

Mike: Notre Dame

Charlie Weis and the Irish owe me a new liver after last week’s disgusting “win” against San Diego State. Fortunately for ND, Michigan has looked terrible on offense in its first two games, due largely to their ineffectiveness at quarterback. Given the expected lack of offense on both sides, the difference in this game will likely be turnovers and special teams. Look for the blitz-happy ND defense (inspired by my presence at Notre Dame Stadium) to pressure one or both of the Michigan quarterbacks, both of whom will be playing his first road game, into making several critical mistakes. On the other side of the ball, I think ND will protect the ball better this week and their improved special teams will contribute to a hard fought win.

Notre Dame 17 Michigan 13

Doug: Notre Dame

Let's break this one down the old fashioned way:

Notre Dame defense vs. Michigan offense -

While I think our defense is getting better, I'm actually more concerned about the defense than I am about the offense. We still don't tackle all that well (several missed tackles against SDSU that led to big gains), we're not very physical, SDSU was picking up our blitzes relatively easily, and our d-line is really not good at all. I hate to say it, but a good team with a quality running game and veteran QB would probably pick this defense apart. There are too many guys on our defense who get taken out of the play. If you watch John Ryan, he gets blown off the ball constantly. Same would go for Kuntz and Justin Brown. The only difference-making defensive linemen in our rotation at this point is Ian Williams. We don't have the personnel to dominate up front, and it all starts up front in college football. If we can't get any pressure with our d-line and can't stop the run, good teams are going to chew up yards. I do think that the d-line problems will be solved over the next couple years as better athletes start getting more playing time.

On the bright side, I really like this secondary, so hopefully the coverage breakdowns of the early Weis/Willingham eras are a thing of the past. I'm not worried about teams throwing the deep ball on this secondary because we generally defend it pretty well now. There was nothing more frustrating than seeing teams launch the ball deep down the field and our corners and safeties could do nothing to stop it. Those days are over.

Also love the linebackers on this roster. Brian Smith is the probably the best young linebacker we've had in ten years, and Kerry Neal is emerging as a great pass rusher as well. Our linebackers are going to be the strength of this defense when all these guys start to mature.

If we were playing a traditional Michigan team with a strong o-line, good running game, solid pro-style QB, I'd be awfully concerned about our defense heading into this game. The good news is that Michigan's offense is a trainwreck and could play right into our hands. Tenuta's aggressive style is going to bring the heat in this game, so hopefully we can force Threet into some bad throws and some turnovers. We have to find ways to get pressure on the quarterback, and we need to be able to stop the run. Michigan's o-line is a mess, so I'm really not all that worried about them running it down our throats like they did last year.

I haven't watched Michigan yet this year, but everything I've read is bad. Threet is a pretty good runner but hasn't shown any ability to hit open receivers, their running game can't get on track, and they don't have the playmakers that Michigan teams have had in the past.

Notre Dame offense vs. Michigan defense:

While our offense has a long way to go, I think there are some building blocks. Clausen is a very accurate passer, Tate, Floyd, and Kamara are playmakers, and I saw some decent things out of our running backs. The offensive line still has to gel, but sometimes it takes time for an o-line to put it together. We wouldn't be the first team to struggle on the o-line for a month or so and then suddenly the light bulb goes on. I'm not giving up on this o-line just yet.

Michigan has a stout defense and should be tough against the run. I have no expectations of effectively running the ball on Saturday, so our offense is going to have to come through the air with the run sprinkled in. I'd like to see us open the game with four wides and the hurryup offense. Slants, quick hitters, crossing routes, etc. If we can get the ball moving down the field and put Michigan's defense on its heels, hopefully that will open up some running lanes. I would love to be able to pound the ball and impose our will on Michigan, but we're not there at this point. The bottom line is that we have to find a way to put up some points in the red zone to win this game, and I think our best way to get down there is to turn the offense loose with Clausen and the wideouts.

Special teams: As is always the case in a big game, special teams is going to play a big role in the field position game. ND is going to need a great day from the coverage and return units, and we're going to need the field goal kicker to put the ball through the uprights. Not only do all these field goal misses cost us points on the scoreboard, they end up giving the other team good field position going the other way.

I would LOVE to see Armando Allen take one to the house on a punt return on Saturday. If our defense can push Michigan deep into their own territory a few times, Allen may be able to field some punts around the 50 with room to run. Let's hope he capitalizes on it.

Coaching/Intangibles: While I dispute the statement that this game is the biggest game of Charlie Weis's career (if standards have dropped so low that beating the worst Michigan team in 25 years is somehow a defining moment for Charlie Weis, then something is seriously wrong), I do think that Saturday is an absolute must win for Charlie Weis if he wants to keep this fanbase united behind him. There is absolutely NO REASON to lose to Michigan in this game. Weis is in his fourth year, we have a returning QB and many other guys back, Rodriguez is in his first year and in serious transition, it's a home game, we have revenge on our minds, and the fans are absolutely STARVING for a win. Every Michigan fan I know is sort of ambivalent about this game because they are staring at a lousy season and know that they are in the very beginning of a rebuilding process. ND fans are desperate for this win and view it is a program-defining game. I'm expecting a raucous crowd on Saturday along the lines of the 2006 Penn State crowd, so I think ND will come out of the tunnel fired up for this game.

On the Michigan side, I think Rodriguez would like to make a statement, but Michigan is a team in chaos at this point in the season. Just when I thought the intangibles were clearly in our favor, I saw this story in the Detroit Free Press.

Ugh. Just stop talking already. We were 3-9 last year and lost to Michigan 38-0 and 47-21 the year before. Our coach has no business saying anything about Michigan other than apologizing to our fans for how bad we've played against them. Just stop with the blustery "tell it like it is" crap. Win games, and then start talking. Until then, worry about our team.

With Weis tied down for another nine years after that 10 year extension (which is absolutely ludicrous in retrospect), we are married to him at this point and need him to be the man for the job. Even if we stink up the joint this year, there is no way we can financially justify firing him for another couple years. I want absolutely nothing to do with another coaching search and there isn't an obvious candidate out there for this program, so we have no choice but to hope that Weis starts winning big within the next couple years. He has brought in a ton of talent (which is evident when you watch our young guys play), and I am hopeful that this talent will start translating into great teams. Let's hope that better performances begin on Saturday.

Conclusion: While both programs are clearly rebuilding, it is still exciting to see these two uniforms and helmets on the field at the same time. I think Michigan is going to have some surprises in store for us, but this game is too important for ND to lose. A loss to Michigan at home would be a clear signal that something is still wrong with this program and that the 2008 season is probably not going to be all that much different from the 2007 campaign. A win on Saturday gives this team a little boost of confidence and restores some faith in Charlie Weis. Can't wait to get up there on Saturday and watch this game. I'm already looking forward to celebrating at The Backer after the game on Saturday.

ND 24 Michigan 14

Last week:

Dan: 0-0
Matt: 10-6
Mike: 12-4
Doug: 10-6


Dan: 0-0
Matt: 20-11
Mike: 19-12
Doug: 17-14

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