October 30, 2008

Week 10: The Picks

At this time last year, many of the folks at WEISND were saddling up to the sportsbook at The Mirage to place our bets on the Cocktail Party, so I'm excited about this weekend in college football just for the nostalgia of a great Vegas trip. My only regret that weekend was that I didn't make enough bets on the Breeders Cup. Oh well. Still a great trip.

Anyway, it's hard to top the pomp and circumstances of the Cocktail Party, so week 10 could be considered a great weekend in college football just because of that game alone. From what I've heard, the Florida-Georgia game weekend is about the only time all year when Jacksonville actually shows some life as a sports town and a party town. Other than that, it's 32 oz beers at a mall food court on "The Landing." Good times!! I'm planning to go to the Gator Bowl this year, so someone please forward us better suggestions for a place to party than "The Landing." I might stop at "Legends" for some nostalgia, but there have to be better places to go out. Then again, who am I kidding?? I had a phenomenal time at "The Landing," so I probably shouldn't be complaining.

Ok, enough of that. Week 10 also brings us to Lubbock, Texas for the latest "Big 12 Game of the Year." Should be a dandy (had to say that since Musberger is calling the game) down there on Saturday night.

The Irish return to South Bend for the first time in about a month to take on Pitt in a fairly big game between 5-2 teams. While Pitt is probably one of the better teams we've played this year (and maybe the best team we'll face at home this year...sad), it is a very winnable game for the Irish and a great opportunity to get to 6-2.

Finally, we are unveiling the official WEISND email address this week. If you feel like sending us an email at 3 am to hype up your team or demand the firing of your coach or if you just feel like telling us how awful our picks are, feel free to email us at http://www.blogger.com/weisnd.blogspot.com@gmail.com. If you have any interesting thoughts on college football or the sports world in general, we'll get them up on the blog. Always appreciate the feedback.

South Florida -2.5 at Cincinnati (ESPN 7:30pm)

Dan: Cincinnati +2.5

South Florida late season tail spin + home underdog team on a Thursday night + Brian Kelly getting his team to bounce back = take the points.

Cincinnati 20 USF 17

Matt: UC +2.5 – I don’t know a thing about Cincinnati football this year, but I’m done with USF for this year after picking them last week to beat Louisville.

UC 27 USF 24

Mike: South Florida -2.5

I bet big (for entertainment purposes, that is) on the Bearcats last week, figuring that UConn squad would struggle with their 3rd string quarterback at the helm and Cinci would thrive with the return of Tony Pike. The obvious flaw in my reasoning, of course, is that Pike himself is still a backup quarterback with very little experience. With a short week to prepare against a talented South Florida defense, it will be tough sledding for Pike and the UC offense again this week. Although ESPN Thursday Night Football has been a graveyard for favorites, much like Saratoga Race Course and Court #2 at Wimbledon, the Bulls have too much skill to be bitten by the upset bug again.

South Florida 24 Cincinnati 17

Doug: Cincinnati +2.5

Gotta support my local boys. UC is not as good this year as they were last year, but I still believe in Brian Kelly. The Bearcats are in a transition year, but it's a night game at home. I generally favor the home teams on these Thursday night games. USF is not as good this year as they have been in the past.

Gotta address this bold TJ Houshmandzadeh proclamation while I'm here. If this story hasn't gotten out nationally, he GUARANTEED that the Bengals won't go 0-16 this year. Here's the relevant quote.

"If the season ends and we don't win a game," Houshmandzadeh vowed, "I will walk from my house to the NFL Network studios."

Houshmandzadeh's house is in Cerritos, Calif., 27 miles from the NFL Network studios in Culver City. If that weren't challenging enough, the majority of the walk would have to take place on I-405, a heavily driven interstate.

WOW, way to go out on a limb TJ and guarantee ONE WIN. Really bold statement there. Now I'm officially excited about Bengal football because you think we're winning one game this year.

Bengal fans, what are you looking for out of next year's draft?? My strategy would probably be to grab "Mr Blind Side" Michael Oher with our top five pick as an anchor at left tackle now that Levi Jones has morphed into a corpse over there, and grab a center in round two. You could rebuild that o-line practically overnight with those two moves, and maybe give this offense a shot in the arm. If you want a running back, go get the BASECRB (Best Available SEC Running Back) in like the 4th round. I don't know what year Charles Scott is, but he'd be a great value pick in the middle rounds.

Absolutely no reason to take a running back in the first or second round when there are quality backs in the later rounds and so many other needs on this team. If the Bengals rebuilt the o-line in the draft and grabbed another d-tackle somewhere to go with young stud DT Pat Sims, they'd be in exponentially better shape up front. This team actually has some young players on defense to build around between Sims, Keith Rivers, Ndukwe, Leon Hall, and Domato Peka.

Ok, that was the best I could do to be optimistic about the future of the Bengals even knowing that they will probably draft Beanie Wells and do nothing to fill the remaining holes on the defense.

Cincinnati 21 USF 20

Miami (+2.5) at Virginia (Raycom 12pm)

Dan: Miami +2.5

Tough game here. I can’t get a complete read on either team. Both teams have strung together brief winning streaks, but UVA has looked way better doing it. However, it is time for a patented Al Groh choke job.

Miami 13 UVA 10

Matt: Miami +2.5

My blind faith in Randy Shannon continues. But I am curious how the hell UVA went to Georgia Tech and won that game. By the way, UVA, a team that lost to UConn by 35 and Duke by 28, is in the driver’s seat for the ACC. Can we just award their BCS berth this year to the Mountain West?

Miami 31 UVA 27

Mike: Miami +2.5

It has almost become a tired cliché at this point, but the ACC really is a friggin crapshoot this year. Although Al Groh should be commended for surprisingly turning things around in Charlottesville at a time when the vultures were circling around his offense, Virginia seems to be winning with smoke and mirrors. By contrast, it is hard not to be impressed with the athletic ability of the freshman-laden Canes, notwithstanding my skepticism for Randy Shannon’s coaching ability. Picking a young team on the road is always a dicey proposition, but I believe that Miami has too much talent for Virginia to handle.

Miami 20 Virginia 17

Doug: Virginia -2.5

Virginia is becoming the story of the year in the ACC after four consecutive upset wins. Maybe their luck will run out this week, but I don't feel comfortable picking a mediocre Miami team on the road. Miami is not that good. They've lost to every decent team they've played this year. Virginia is apparently a solid team, so give me the Cavs in another "upset."

Virginia 20 Miami 17

West Virginia -4 at Connecticut (Big East Network 12pm)

Dan: Connecticut +4

I think people overrate the WVU victory over Auburn. The Huskies looked good last week against the Bearcats, despite laying two stink bombs the previous two games. Mountaineers escape with the win, barely, but fail to cover.

West Virginia 24 Connecticut 21

Matt: West Virginia -4

I don’t know if they’re back or not, but West Virginia is playing a lot better recently. I think they cruise to the Big East title and win big at UConn.

West Virginia 34 UConn 17

Mike: West Virginia -4

This game has all the makings of a Connecticut upset. West Virginia is coming off a big win against Auburn and it is reasonable to expect that they might be a tad overconfident entering this game. The Mountaineers are also coached by Bill Stewart, who seems exactly like the type of Ron Zook/Dave Wannstedt buffoon that will inexplicably lose multiple games each year against inferior teams. In addition, Connecticut always seems to pull out improbable wins despite being outgained or looking bad in the process, which I suppose is a sign of good coaching by Randy Edsall. Having said all that, I cannot bring myself to pick a very average UConn team that is playing with a backup quarterback, regardless of what my instincts are telling me.

West Virginia 28 Connecticut 21

Doug: West Virginia -4

UConn is off to a 6-2 start and probably headed for 8-9 wins, but I just can't get on board with their program. They are well-coached, but I just don't see a lot of talent. When they play a good team with some talent, they struggle. UConn is a lot like Purdue. They get the most out of very average talent (especially up front), but they have trouble once they run into more talented teams. West Virginia is not as good as they've been in the past, but their offense is still pretty explosive and dangerous. Pat White is back, and I like the Mountaineers to win this game.

I must have been asleep at the switch, but when did this Big East Network come about?? I don't remember hearing anything about it, and then I realized that the UC-UConn game from last week was on the Big East Network as well. It's obviously not an official network since I was getting the feed on another channel, so what is it?? How do you get it?? Are there going to be Big East basketball games on the network as well?? If there are any Big East employees reading this site, please chime in.

West Virginia 31 UConn 14

Wisconsin +4.5 at Michigan State (ESPN 12pm)

Dan: MSU -4.5

I think Mark Dantonio finally manages to get MSU to avoid their usual late season self destruction. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is done, despite their win over bad Illinois team last week.

Michigan State 28 Wisconsin 13

Matt: Michigan State -4.5

Wisconsin is awful

Michigan State 41 Wisconsin 21

Mike: Michigan State -4.5

It was only Michigan, but I was impressed by Michigan State’s ability to take care of business in late October against a team that had traditionally owned them. Have things really changed under Mark D’Antonio after all? Even if not, Sparty showed enough for me to conclude that they will handle a Wisconsin team that still has severe quarterback issues and injury concerns.

Michigan State 19 Wisconsin 10

Doug: Michigan State -4.5

Man, I have literally gone back and forth on this pick and now in the process of rewriting my take on this game. I had Wisconsin down for an upset on the theory that there is too much pride in this program for them not to be fighting for a bowl bid this year. While I am glad to see them having a good season, I am still having a tough time getting over the hump with this Michigan State program. They have enough shaky parts (QB, secondary, receivers) that I don't have a ton of confidence in them. It's not like they have better talent than Wisky, and Wisky can easily win this game if they get back to doing "Wisconsin things" (running the ball, stopping the run, physical, no turnovers, etc). So I was all set to pick Wisconsin here to cover and win.

But as I thought about this game, I couldn't go through with the Wisky pick. They just aren't a very good team this year, and they haven't been doing "Wisconsin things" all year. Michigan State can probably run the ball on Wisconsin, and this game is over if they can.

I'm struggling with this pick, but I have to err on the side of the home team and the better team. When have bad Big 10 teams ever won on the road?? It's almost unheard of.

I think these two programs are going to be battling it out over the next few years for prime position as the next program right below the Big Three (OSU, Michigan, Penn State). Wisconsin held that title for many years, but they might be slipping just a bit. The way that MSU is recruiting, they are going to be in great position to make that move into the upper echolon of the Big 10 with an occasional run at the conference title.

MSU 21 Wisky 10

Northwestern +6.5 at Minnesota (ESPN2 12pm)

Dan: Minnesota -6.5

I wasn’t sure at all why Northwestern was ranked last week. On the other hand, the whole country keeps waiting for the Gophers to fall on their face. Not this week.

Minnesota 24 Northwestern 16

Matt: Northwestern +6.5

I don’t care what the records are – you cannot convince me this is a big game. Give me Northwestern to cover and let’s just pretend that we are not picking this one.

Minnesota 6 Northwestern 3

Mike: Northwestern +6.5

I desperately want to pick against Minnesota here, but Northwestern is in a world of hurt right now with injuries to Tyrell Sutton and C.J. Bacher. As improbable as it seems, the Gophers should win this game and they could conceivably end the regular season with just one or two losses. Thumbs up to Tim Brewster, but thumbs down to Notre Dame alumnus Joel Maturi for assembling their pathetic out of conference schedule. On second thought, screw it- I just can’t bring myself to pick Minnesota.

Minnesota 27 Northwestern 22

Doug: Minnesota -6.5

I don't think you could have paid me to say the words "Minnesota -6" against anybody on the blog before the year, but that is what it has come to as we head into week 10. Not sure if I like this pick either (becoming a theme for this week), but Northwestern is really banged up. No Tyrell Sutton for the rest of the year, and Bacher is hurt too. Minnesota is not as good as their record or ranking, but I can't take Northwestern with all those injuries. I can't believe Minnesota is ranked. Tim Brewster is hands down the Big 10 coach of the year. They have a very legitimate shot to win 10 games this year. It's the perfect storm for Minnesota football. No Penn State or Michigan State on the schedule, Wisky and Michigan are down, and they get teams like Iowa and Northwestern at home. They may never get a scheduling break like this again, so good for them for taking advantage of it.

I'm glad to see Minnesota doing well. My fear when they fired Glen Mason was that Minnesota would become yet another black hole for the Big 10, but Brewster has given that program a shot in the arm. I hope that they continue to do well and regularly win 7-8 games.

Minnesota 28 Northwestern 17

Kansas State +10.5 at Kansas (FSN 12:30pm)

Dan: Kansas State +10.5

I was all set to pick Kansas in this game. But K-State looked like it can score fairly easily for a while against OU last week. Kansas, on the other hand, looked lost. I think they do bounce back for the win, but 10.5 is too many points in this in state rivalry game.

Kansas 38 Kansas State 31

Matt: Kansas State +10.5

Wow, Kansas was thoroughly embarrassed last week by Texas Tech. I think a lot of people expected them to lose that game, but nobody thought their offense would get shut down by Texas Tech’s usually penetrable defense. Is Texas Tech that good or was Kansas just exposed for being a mediocre team. I think a little of both, and in a rivalry game I like Kansas State to hang around.

Kansas 42 Kansas State 35

Mike: Kansas State +11.5

Stop this Kansas bandwagon and let me off. The Jayhawks have proven that they are clearly a step below the Big 12 powers and, furthermore, their egos may be bruised after last week’s homecoming thumping at the hands of Texas Tech. Kansas State is defensively challenged, but they should score in bunches this week against Kansas’ porous defense, thereby allowing them to earn the cover in this heated Sunflower State rivalry.

Kansas 44 Kansas State 35

Doug: Kansas State +10.5

I know absolutely nothing about this game, so I'll just take the points. The only redeeming thing about this game is that we'll probably get the great FSN announcing duo of Joey Myers and Dave Lapham (Bengals radio color man). Always enjoy hearing those two do Big 12 games on FSN.

Kansas 30 KSU 20

Iowa +2.5 at Illinois (ABC 3:30pm)

Dan: Iowa +2.5

I am not a believer in these Hawkeyes at all. But Michigan is probably the best team Illinois has beaten, and that is not much of an accomplishment.

Iowa 20 Illinois 17

Matt: Iowa +2.5

Start dusting off the cobwebs on fireronzook.com.

Iowa 17 Illinois 13

Mike: Iowa +2.5

This is a tough game to call. Assuming that Iowa gets the lead, they can rely upon their brutally efficient running attack led by the underrated Shonn Greene. If the Hawkeyes fall behind, however, it is unlikely that they will be able to stage a comeback on the road on the strength of their pedestrian passing game. Given Iowa’s strong defense and Juice Williams’s propensity for mistakes, I believe that the former scenario is more likely than the latter, so I’ll take Iowa.

Iowa 23 Illinois 20

Doug: Illinois -2.5

ABC is really scraping the bottom of the barrel to have this game on the ABC regional coverage. Yikes. I'm almost embarrassed to be living in the Midwest knowing that I am getting this game on ABC. Oh well. The good news is that ND will probably get a good rating on Saturday since the 3:30 Big Ten game is not particularly attractive. Then again, Georgia-Florida is on at the same time, so maybe everyone is going to be locking in on that one.

Maybe it's just because I haven't watched Iowa yet this year, but I can't get excited about them for some reason even though they are having a surprisingly good season. Illinois has been extremely up and down this year. They basically go as Juice Williams goes. He had a rough game last week against Wisconsin, so I think he is going to be looking to bounce back.

Illinois 27 Iowa 24

Florida -6 vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, FL (CBS Sports 3:30pm)

Dan: Florida -6

I think during the course of the year I have probably bet on these two teams around 6 or 7 times. I think I’ve been wrong every time. Moral – I clearly cannot get a read on these two teams. So I guess I’ll take Tebow to out perform Stafford.

Florida 28 Georgia 21

Matt: Florida -6

Game of the Year! It all comes down to whether Georgia can contain Tebow, Harvin and Demps. I know they had the game in control last week from the start, but they gave up 38 points and a ton of yards to a mediocre LSU team. In case you were wondering, here’s my Top 7 heading into this week.

1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. Florida
4. USC
5. Penn State
6. Texas Tech
7. Oklahoma State

30. Notre Dame

49. Wake Forest – Not Jim Grobe’s finest season. Last week, in the middle of the season mind you, he ditched the spread offense and converted to the Power I. In a game they trailed the whole time to Miami, their best player Riley Skinner through the ball 8 times. 8 times! And they were losing. If they lose this week on homecoming to Duke…well, nothing will happen because nobody really cares about football. But it will be embarrassing.

119. Washington – Bonus Pick – USC -45 over Washington. Has there ever been a 50 point line. Come on gamblers of America. Get out your wallets and let’s get that line up to 50 points.

Florida 33 Georgia 24

Mike: Florida -6

Although Georgia notched an impressive road victory in Death Valley last week, Florida is on another level right now. As much as I despise Urban Meyer, the Gators have a dominating defense and an explosive offense, especially now that they actually have a running game to complement Tim Tebow. Perhaps I am too critical of Matt Stafford, who played great against LSU, but I think he will make several critical errors that will lead to a surprisingly easy Florida win. One additional note: as if Florida won’t be motivated enough by the magnitude of the game, they will even have extra motivation to punish Georgia after the full team celebration by the Dawgs at the 2007 Cocktail Party.

Florida 41 Georgia 17

Doug: Florida -6

Verne and Gary are headed to Jacksonville for your SEC game of the week. The Cocktail Party. One of my favorite games of the year. Doesn't it seem like there is a YUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE (to borrow a Bob Davie phrase) SEC game every week?? God bless the Southeastern Conference. It never fails to entertain me and get me fired up for the weekend.

So much on the line in Jacksonville this weekend. The SEC East title, national championship hopes, bragging rights, possible Heisman trophy candidacies, and another chapter in the budding Meyer-Richt rivalry. Plus, you have the lingering bitterness over the excessive celebration penalty from last year. Not gonna lie that I'm a little bummed out that this game is going to overlap with the ND game. ND should just schedule a bye or a road game during the Florida-Georgia game week or something.

As for the game, Georgia is starting to peak at the right time, and this game is feeling a little like last year's game did with Georgia as a solid underdog. Georgia's physical style caused major problems for Florida last year, so this game is going to be won and lost on the line of scrimmage. Perhaps I am a little naive for picking the Gators again this year (especially after losing on them last year in Vegas), but I just can't see Urban Meyer losing to Georgia in back to back years. Florida has been stewing over this game all year, and I think they are going to be ready to explode on Saturday. When Florida is on, they are the best team in the country.

Urban will have them ready. Give me the Gators.

Florida 23 Georgia 14

Nebraska +22 at Oklahoma (ESPN 8pm)

Dan: Oklahoma -22

Yikes Bo, you need to get some players. Fast. Teams in the Big 12 really, really like to beat up on Nebraska. Oklahoma is no exception.

Oklahoma 48 Nebraska 17

Matt: Oklahoma -22

I think there are some scenarios for OU to sneak their way back into the National Championship picture. I don’t like picking Nebraska to lose by this much, but nobody has really slowed down the Oklahoma offense yet and I sure as heck don’t think the artists formerly known as the Blackshirts are going to

Oklahoma 58 Nebraska 31

Mike: Nebraska +22

There are only a handful of defensive units in the entire FBS that could conceivably slow down Sam Bradford and the defense formerly known as the Blackshirts™ is not one of them. Since Ryan Reynolds’s injury against Texas, however, the Sooners defense has been a sieve. Nebraska did not exactly set the world on fire against Baylor, but it seems like Bo Pelini has his team on the right track and I expect an inspired performance from Nebraska this week, albeit in defeat.

Oklahoma 48 Nebraska 34

Doug: Nebraska +22

Oklahoma has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, but their defense is not that good. Nebraska is slowly but surely starting to right the ship, and they are capable of scoring points. It's a rivalry game, and I hope the Huskers have enough pride to cover the 21 points.

Oklahoma 42 Nebraska 24

Florida State +2.5 at Georgia Tech (ABC 3:30pm)

Dan: Florida State +2.5

Can Paul Johnson get his team to bounce back from the disappointing loss last week? I think he’s still a year or two away. Meanwhile, Florida State is at its best well over 5 years.

Florida State 24 Georgia Tech 17

Matt: FSU +2.5

Hmm…something a little weird about this line. It seems like FSU has turned a corner while didn’t GT just lose at home to UVA. I’ll take the Noles for a straight up win.

FSU 24 GT 18

Mike: Georgia Tech -2.5

There’s no sugarcoating it: Paul Johnson’s crew suffered an embarrassing defeat last week at home to Virginia, irrespective of the Cavs’ recent rejuvenation. Tech is struggling to find their offensive identity and the Seminoles are not exactly the right tonic for ailing offenses, but the Jackets have shown that they can be successful if they can just avoid costly fumbles. On the other side of the ball, Georgia Tech should have success against the young Florida State offensive line, which will allow them to force some mistakes by Christian Ponder and thereby enjoy a much needed reversal of fortunes on the turnover front.

Georgia Tech 21 Florida State 17

Doug: Florida State +2.5

Huge ACC game in Atlanta. Both teams needs this game to put themselves in position to get to the ACC Championship game. This game originally started with Florida State as the favorite and now has them as a 2.5 point underdog. Color me nervous about my pick all of the sudden.

I hate picking against Paul Johnson at home (especially coming off a loss), but I fear that the book is out on their offense. As teams have had more chances to study them, they are starting to develop a blueprint to stop their offense. Just feels to me like a good team can beat them. One dimensional teams like Georgia Tech are always susceptible to being shut down by a good defense.

Florida State is far from a great team, but they are developing a level of consistency that you need on the road. They still have a very fast and aggressive defense that excels at shutting down the run game. They can contain Georgia Tech's run game and force Nesbitt to make some throws to beat them. If they come out ready to play on Saturday, I think they'll steal this game.

FSU 23 Georgia Tech 17

Oregon +3 at Cal (ABC 3:30pm)

Dan: Oregon (+3)

Oregon has looked pretty good this year other than the stinker against the Trojans. I can’t say the same for Cal. Even on the road, I’ll take the points and moneyline here.

Oregon 31 Cal 27

Matt: Cal -3

Three teams I’m really not familiar with. Give me Cal at home

Cal 31 Oregon 21

Mike: California -3

As evidenced by the line, these two teams are very evenly matched. Both of these teams can run the ball, but California has a better defense than Oregon and more experience at quarterback. As such, I like the Bears to emerge victorious in Strawberry Canyon in the famed “Battle for Second Place” in the Pac-10.

California 28 Oregon 24

Doug: Oregon +3

Wow, another difficult game for me to predict. These lines are torture. I think it's entirely possible that I go like 1-14 or something this week.

I have absolutely nothing to base my pick on in this game, but it sounds like Oregon's offense is turning the corner. This Masoli guy is starting to figure it out offensively, and I think Oregon's offense has a higher upside than Cal.

Speaking of the state of Oregon, color me heartbroken over this possible Greg Oden ankle injury. I watched his postgame interview, and the guy sounds absolutely devastated. At this point, it's probably time to wonder if Oden is made of glass and whether he is going to be able to withstand the physical rigors of playing in the NBA. I hate to say it, but I think the "B" word is going to start popping up in the near future about Mango Salsa. Maybe it's not fair to call a guy with injury problems a bust, but there's been such high expectations for Oden since he was in high school that it would be hard not to start throwing the word around.

I read awhile back that Oden might have the same condition that Andre the Giant had and that his body isn't going to hold up. Too much upper body for his legs to carry around. If he's already having feet and knee and leg problems at age 20 or whatever, what is he going to be like in 5 years??

Oden has some amazing raw tools (size and athleticism), but he is so clumsy and awkward that it makes me wonder if he isn't more susceptible to injury just because he hasn't matured into his body.

I am hoping for the best for Greg Oden. He seems like a great person who is genuine and embraces the "good guy" role as an athlete, but I do wonder how his career will turn out. There are so many question marks about him at this point that it's hard for me to really project him as an All-Star player someday.

Oregon 37 Cal 31

Washington +45 at USC (FSN 6:30pm)

Dan: Washington +45

45 points. In a conference game. Ty shouldn’t even coach the rest of the year. This is embarrassing. I can’t take a -45 spread. I don’t care who it is. It’s a BCS CONFERENCE game. 45 points?? Ugh. Don’t bet on this game.

USC 48 Washington 10

Matt: USC -45

Has there ever been a 50 point line? Come on gamblers of America. Get out your wallets and let’s get that line up to 50 points.

USC 51 UW 0

Mike: Washington +45

I have no real rationale for this pick, other than the fact that I still have the memory last year’s Stanford-USC game fresh in my head. It is possible that this week’s announcement regarding Willingham will allow the Huskies to play free and clear, although it seems equally plausible that the team will quit completely (assuming that they haven’t already). If USC is motivated, they can name their score, but it is doubtful that the Trojans will have any particular interest in playing this game.

USC 51 Washington 10

Doug: USC -45

Wow, that is a high line, but I don't see any reason why USC can't cover it. They covered the 49 against Wazzou. USC is going to be looking for style points, and UW has quit. They aren't scoring a point in this game, so USC can easily cover if they go full throttle for 60 minutes. Heck, ND could have scored 50 against UW if we had kept the starters in and continued to throw the ball. Playing against Washington is the equivalent of playing against air.

USC is getting no respect in the polls by the way. It's one of the quietest likely 11-1 teams in recent history. They actually DROPPED this week in the polls after winning. USC needs the Big 12 and SEC to start losing some games. A 1 loss USC team is always going to be in the mix for the title game if you ask me, and I don't see another loss on their schedule. Washington, Cal, Stanford, ND, UCLA. I think they'll win all those games by double digits.

USC 63 UW 0

Tennessee (+6) at South Carolina

Dan: Tennessee +6

Tennessee can’t beat anyone. But I don’t think SC can win this by 6 points. Fulmer has to be sweating by now.

South Carolina 21 Tennessee 17

Matt: Tennessee +6

Another game where I really have no clue. I think both of these teams are pretty bad, but I guess I’ll reluctantly take the Vols just because I don’t see USC beating them by 6 points. But with this loss, Phil Fulmer is in some serious trouble.

USC 17 UT 14

Mike: South Carolina -5.5

With Philip Fulmer’s job in serious jeopardy, it would only be fitting and proper if his longtime nemesis, Steve Spurrier, could deliver the coup de grace. If the Vols fall behind early, don’t be surprised if they fold their tents.

South Carolina 31 Tennessee 6

Doug: South Carolina -6

It probably figures that this week will be the one when I am wrong on Tennessee since I have picked them just about every week, but I like South Carolina in a rout. Spurrier knows Phil Fulmer better than anyone. Spurrier just has his number. Tennessee might cover one of these days, but I'd rather not continue to lose on them while we're waiting. They have thrown in the towel. South Carolina has had a week off to gear up for this one. I think the Gamecocks roll in Columbia.

South Carolina 17 Tennessee 7

Texas -4 at Texas Tech (ESPN2 7pm)

Dan: Texas -4

It’s Texas Tech. I don’t care how good they seem. Forget about it.

Texas 35 Texas Tech 24

Matt: Texas -4

Biggest day in the history of Lubbock, Texas! Are there even enough hotel rooms in Lubbock to house all the people coming into town this weekend? Is there even an airport there? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to these questions as Lubbock is about dead last on my list of places I must visit before I die. As for the game, as good as Texas Tech has looked…it’s fool’s gold. Haven’t they done this in the past for the last 5 years or so? Until I see them win a big game, and by big I mean Texas or Oklahoma (and that win in 05 over a mediocre OU team doesn’t count), there is no way I’m picking them to beat Texas. The Colt McCoy Heisman Campaign continues.

Texas 48 Texas Tech 31

Mike: Texas Tech +4

I have stubbornly refused to give Texas Tech an ounce of credit, so this would be the perfect opportunity for me to slap the “fraud” label on the Red Raiders as they enter the meat of their schedule. Nonetheless, it will be tremendously difficult for the visiting Longhorns, who are coming off three consecutive games against top flight competition, to match the intensity of a Texas Tech team playing under the lights in the biggest game in school history. This should be an incredible game that will hopefully go right down to the wire.

Texas 41 Texas Tech 38

Doug: Texas -4

Wow, maybe the biggest event in the history of Lubbock, Texas!! I heard Kirk Herbstreit on the radio earlier in the week talking about this game, and he said it's going to be absolutely nuts down there.

I'm excited to tune in and hoping for a good game, but this feels like one of those "what was I thinking??" gambling games where you talk yourself into Texas Tech on paper because of their gaudy record and high ranking and that they are getting 6 points, and then it's 37-17 Texas in the 3rd quarter and the Horns are manhandling Tech up front. I can't believe this line is only at 4. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too low. This might be my lock of the week.

Texas Tech is much better than I thought they were, and I was really impressed with them against Kansas. Give them the ball against a susceptible defense, and look out. Their defense isn't bad either. The thought of the Irish playing them in the Cotton Bowl terrifies me.

But I think this game is going to be ugly. It's not like Texas is overlooking Tech. They know that their path to the title game blows wide open if they win this game, and it's a rivalry. They will be hungry. Texas Tech is definitely a good team, but Texas is a monster. They have more talent than Tech, and I expect them to dominate this game up front. I just can't see them losing to an inferior Texas Tech game.

By the way, for you attorneys out there, some judge in the US Bankruptcy court in Lubbock, Texas is currently accepting applications for a clerk position. Cmon, tell me that isn't a little intriguing?!!? Probably the first thing I would do upon arriving in Lubbock (before even buying a house or setting up my utilities) would be to purchase season tickets to Texas Tech football and basketball. Does anything else go on in Lubbock, Texas?? It just seems incredibly remote down there. I gotta go on vacation to Lubbock someday (my wife will probably love that).

Texas 45 Texas Tech 31

Pitt at Notre Dame (NBC Sports 2:30 pm)

Dan: Notre Dame

This is a bit of a trap game for Notre Dame. And Pitt predictably losing last week doesn’t help. But I think Clausen bounces back after a terrible game last week and has a great game back at home. The defense, however, struggles to stop the run and keeps it closer than it should be.

Notre Dame 31 Pitt 24

Matt: Notre Dame

I wish it wasn’t midterms week because I have a lot of thoughts on this game. Basically, I don’t think ND can stop the run. Shady will have a field day and it will be up to the Irish offense to keep pace, which they should be able to after Rutgers formerly anemic offense hung a 50 spot on the Pitt D. There is no way that a Dave Wannstedt coached team should win in Notre Dame Stadium, so I’ll cross my fingers and pick the Irish. A loss in this game would be inexcusable in my opinion.

Mike: Notre Dame (no line)

Last week’s win was not particular revealing for Notre Dame, insofar as its opponent was a colossal joke. Thus, it is unclear whether this Irish defensive line can matchup against a physical Pittsburgh running attack led by Shady McCoy. Pitt has suffered several maladies along their offensive line this year, including the most recent injury to Robb Houser, but a top effort is needed from the Notre Dame front seven. Even if Bill Stull plays in this game, a heavy dose of McCoy is likely, so the Irish must be stout against the run.

Assuming that Mother Nature complies, it should be bombs away for Jimmy Clausen and company against an underwhelming Pitt secondary that was humiliated by the underwhelming Rutgers offense at home last week. Dave Wannstedt has already hinted that there will be personnel changes in said secondary, so Floyd, Tate and Kamara should be ready to provide these replacements with a rude introduction to college football. Many Irish fans have expressed concern about this game, but I am confident that Notre Dame will dispatch Pitt with relative ease. Given the upward trend of the football team and the embarrassing scheduling policies implemented by Kevin White, the Irish football team appears poised to start an extended home winning streak like its basketball brethren.

Doug: Notre Dame

It's not the marquee game of the week by any stretch, but it's definitely a big game for both programs. First for the Irish, it's an opportunity to get to 6-2 and position themselves for at least 8 wins, and it would probably be our best win of the year to date. If we win this game, we are headed to a New Year's Day bowl game. We'd also all but lock up an undefeated season at home, which is a good sign going forward. A win would also be a symbol to ND fans and the college football world that this program continues to turn the corner on the slow march back to the elite. Pitt is not a real good team by any stretch, but a win for the Irish could be a springboard toward a strong finish. I think we will be fired up for this game.

For Pitt, the game is probably equally as big. They are looking to bounce back after a loss to Rutgers, they are also trying to get into the 8 win range, and it's Notre Dame. We've lost some of our luster, but any game in South Bend against the Irish on NBC is not a hard game to get up for. Pitt is viewing this game as a chance to make a statement and put themselves on the national map for a week. Wannstedt knows that he can probably singlehandedly save his job and restore the fanbase's faith in him by winning this game. They will be ready to play as well.

Some keys to this game:

1) The ND running game - I don't think I've listed the ND running game as a "key to the game" yet this year, but I feel like the ND running attack may emerge as the story of this game when it's over. ND is quietly starting to discover the running game, and we may be due for a breakout game. We've been averaging a pretty healthy yards per carry over the last month of the season, and the backs are all running fairly well. Once we actually settled in against UW and started pounding the ball, we were churning out yards. It seems like this offensive line is starting to mature and gel, and holes that weren't there last year or early this year are now opening up.

As we have seen at other schools (FSU is a prominent example from this year), if we can get to the point where we can consistently run for 150 yards a game or so, our offense will be that much more dangerous and balanced. We are still a pass first team obviously and maybe always will be, but this running game is showing some positive signs.

Pitt's running game is getting the attention going into this game (and rightfully so), but I think the ND running game may be the talk of the game afterward. Don't get me wrong, we can win this game without a great rushing attack, but it would be nice to see Aldridge and Armando continue to have some success on the ground. Call it a hunch, but I think the ND running game is on the verge of a breakthrough performance.

2) The ND passing game - While I think the running game will be a big story after the game, it's not like we're going to be playing 3 yards and a cloud of dust ball. We are going to be looking to make plays down the field, and I expect to see Floyd and Tate have big days on Saturday. Pitt couldn't stop Rutgers, so what are we going to do to them?? We should definitely be looking to test their secondary early and often in this game. Deep balls, fades, stuff over the middle to Rudolph, slants, etc. We can do it all on these guys to get the lead. We have too many offensive weapons for Pitt to handle in this game.

3) Shady McCoy - I just spent three paragraphs hyping up the ND running game, so I'd be a fool not to mention LeSean McCoy and the Pitt attack. I've watched Pitt a couple times this year, and the only thing I have taken away about them is that they can run the football on just about anybody. Their line opens up holes, and McCoy is an explosive back. He's not a power back or anything and he has a tendency to dance before hitting the hole, but he also has the ability to rip off a 20 yard run on the next play. Pitt's running game is no joke, and I have no doubt that they will do some damage on the ground against us.

The key for the ND defense (as it has been for us in the last few years) is going to be whether we can get stops in the red zone. Pitt can run between the 30s all they want against us, but we can't let them pound it into the end zone. The defense needs to tighten up in the red zone and get some stops. We obviously want to keep McCoy from breaking off a 60 yard run as well, but that goes without saying. If we show a backbone in the red zone and force them into 3rd and long type situations down there, it would be a great sign.

If the Irish need any added motivation, I'll add this final thought. I'm going against LeSean McCoy this weekend in fantasy football and need a win to get to the championship game. Cmon Irish D, step it up!!

4) Turnovers - If Bill Stull is not playing in this game on Saturday, this key to the game probably moves to #1,at least from the Pitt perspective. If Pitt is forced to go with Pat Bostick on Saturday in his first start on the road, I'm expecting a couple INTs, a fumbled snap or tow, and a host of misreads and false start penalties. Since these two teams are fairly evenly matched, a few turnovers could shift this game one way or the other in a big direction.

Part of it was just Washington's ineptitude, but our blitzes looked better on Saturday than they've looked at any point this year. We were disguising the blitzes and getting to Fouch with relative ease. If we can get to Pitt's QB, that would be huge.

Barring some sort of fluke, I don't see any reason why ND will have problems taking care of the football. We've been fairly good at protecting the ball at home, and Weis has probably been preaching all week to Clausen about his INTs in the last couple games. -

5) Talent - Look, Pitt has some talent, and Wannstedt has brought in better recruiting classes. They have an NFL running back, a couple real good defensive players, one talented freshman WR, and some good linemen. But there are only a handful of guys on the Pitt roster who would be playing on this ND team. It's Pitt. They don't even have Michigan State type talent. Pitt is having a nice season against mediocre competition, but they don't have the depth or overall talent to scare me as an ND fan. There's a difference between a Pitt 5-2 and an LSU 5-2. LSU is having an off year, but they would scare me from a talent perspective. Pitt doesn't have that effect. We have more talent than Pitt, and I expect that to show on the field when the game takes place.

6) Weis vs Wannstedt - I gotta say that I like the coaching matchup this week for the Irish. I'll be the first to admit that I've been really hard on Weis in the last couple years, but he has put this program back on track. A lot of college football programs don't start to mature until the 4th or 5th year of a new regime, and I think we are starting to reach that point with this Irish team. The line is making major strides, and we are developing an identity on offense and defense.

I think that Weis stopped focusing on the "schematic advantages" and all that stuff and started focusing on building some core competencies that we can hang our hat on. I now know for the most part what I can expect to see out of this team, and I think that's a good thing. If your players know what they are doing and can execute, you are going to be successful. It's a totally different mentality from the NFL where surprises and wrinkles are everything. Weis has learned that, and we are now seeing the fruits of his labor in the latter stages of the 2007 season and the 2008 offseason. This team has talent and now has a growing identity. Good sign for the future.

In terms of managing this game and coming up with a successful game plan, Weis has a major edge. He is going to find ways to exploit this Pitt defense on film, and I think we'll see a high quality performance out of the ND offense on Saturday.

I'm not taking this game lightly at all. Pitt has some obvious strengths that appear to exploit our biggest weaknesses, and I think they will be fired up for this game. Wannstedt probably views this game as a potential foundation for his program. Could they beat us?? Absolutely. We are not out of the woods yet in terms of beating these mid-level type teams and have already lost two of them this year. Heck, we ARE one of those mid-level teams at the moment (hopefully not in the future), so it would be crazy for me to thumb my nose at Pitt. If we take them lightly, we will lose on Saturday.

With that said, I know this will sound strange, but ND is a little underrated right now. I think we are a lot better than the national media realizes. The national media is still operating under the assumption that we are not that far removed from the 2007 season and that teams like Pitt are better than us, but we are a different team right now than we were last year and even from earlier in this year. There are signs that we are about to explode. While we haven't had any real good wins so far, we have played well at home.

It's time for ND to win a game like this one. We are a lot closer to the 2005-2006 days than we are to the 2007 days, and the 2005-2006 ND teams would have smoked this current Pitt team. Call me crazy, but that's where I think this game is headed. I love the line at ND -5. I think that's a great bet if you are looking to make some money on the Irish this weekend.

One final strange dynamic about this game. In many ways, the Pitt game at home in 2004 was the game that effectively ended all belief that Willingham could right the ship at ND. Our completely uninspiring effort at home against a mediocre team after we had beaten Tennessee on the road was probably the moment that 99% of ND fans threw in the towel on Willingham. Many had thrown in the towel long before that, but any remaining holdouts jumped on board at that point. It became obvious after we blew that Pitt game that Willingham was not a good football coach. Strange how we have come full circle and that Willingham was fired the same week that we are about to play Pitt at home for the first time since that fateful 2004 game.

ND 35 Pitt 24

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Last week

Dan: 8-7
Matt: 10-5
Mike: 6-9
Doug: 7-8


Dan: 54-48-3 (.529)
Matt: 70-63-3 (.526)
Mike: 67-66-3 (.504)
Doug: 69-64-3 (.519)

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