October 07, 2008

Week 7: The Picks

(Editor's Note: Due to time constraints, we had some troubles getting all our picks in this week. Look for some possible updates to this entry tomorrow during the day)

All right, the buzz word for week seven is Separation Saturday. With Oklahoma and Texas gearing up for their annual showdown in Dallas and LSU headed to Gainesville for a huge night game against Florida, we are going to find out a lot about the pecking order within the two best conferences in football this weekend. The winner of that Texas-OU game will be in the driver's seat in the Big 12 South, and LSU has a chance to make a claim as the best team in the SEC if they can get a win down in The Swamp.

For the 4-1 Irish, Separation Saturday presents us with an opportunity to make a statement to the nation that this team has put behind the nightmares of the 2007 season for good. A win at North Carolina would put us in the top 25 for the first time and probably give this team a belief that they can go on a long winning streak heading into the USC game. I'm headed down to the Carolina area for a doubleheader of college football action with the Wake-Clemson game on Thursday night and the ND-UNC game on Saturday. I'm admittedly concerned about this game, but a win down in Chapel Hill would mark the turning point for the Charlie Weis era. Should be a dandy.

One final note. This is not exactly an NHL blog, but I just wanted to give a shout out to the Columbus Blue Jackets as they embark on yet another likely losing season. After a pretty active offseason, optimism is running high. Can't say that I am buying in just yet, but it would be nice to see them get off to a good start this weekend in Dallas and Phoenix. Go Jackets!

On to this week's picks.

Thursday October 9, 2008

Clemson +2.5 at Wake (ESPN 7:30pm)

Dan: Wake -2.5

Matt: Wake -2.5

I'm looking forward to this Thursday night matchup in the Dash. The added bonus of having Doug join in for some ACC tailgating and football means this should be a good one. I really don't see Wake losing this game at home after laying an egg against Navy 2 weeks ago. Although word around campus is that All-American kicker Sam Swank is going to miss the game due to an injury suffered at practice. Nevertheless, I'd be a fool to pick against the Deacs at home on a Thursday night.

Wake 31 Clemson 20

Mike: Wake Forest (-2.5)

With an extra week to get healthy, it may be time for the Tigers’ annual “Save Tommy Bowden” run, although some reports out of Clemson have indicated that Bobby’s prized son is in real trouble of losing this team. Moreover, Clemson has an awfully tough place to get their season on track, as they must travel to Winston-Salem to face a Wake Forest team that is also coming off a bye. In their last game, the Deacs uncharacteristically committed a myriad of turnovers in a stunning loss against Navy. Jim Grobe should be able to clean up the mistakes this week against a Clemson team that may be perilously close to a complete implosion.

Wake Forest 30 Clemson 20

Doug: Wake Forest -2.5

I would make this pick no matter what, but my first trip to BB&T Field on Thursday for this game pretty much seals the deal for me to pick the Demon Deacons here. Looking forward to getting down there and experiencing some ACC action. Never been to "The Dash" before, so hopefully the rowdies are as fired up about this game as I am. I think Wake is going to roll Clemson. They are going to be looking to get the bad taste out of their mouths following the Navy loss, so I'm going with the Deacons.

And just to add fuel to the fire, I'm going against Cullen Harper in fantasy football this weekend, so I'm hoping he stinks up the joint on Thursday night.

This is actually a pretty big game in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Wake cannot afford to lose this game at home if they want to win that division and get to the ACC Championship game.

Are the three best teams in the ACC all in the Coastal Division?? I think Wake belongs in the conversation, but VT, Georgia Tech, and UNC look pretty strong this year.

What are the ratings going to be for that ACC Championship game if you end up with a Wake Forest-Georgia Tech championship game?? Yikes. Might be lucky to get 10,000 fans to Jacksonville for that one. The inexplicable love affair with putting major sporting events in JVille continues for another year even though it is clear that the only game that town will support (and this includes the Jags) is the Florida-Georgia Cocktail Party game.

Wake Forest 24 Clemson 14

Saturday October 11, 2008

Texas +7 vs. Oklahoma in Dallas (ABC 12pm)

Dan: Oklahoma -7

Matt: Oklahoma -7

I think this is going to be a tremendous matchup. Will any of the defenses be able to step up and get a few stops or create some turnovers. I'm still a tiny bit skeptical of Texas' running game, and I trust Bradford just a hair more in this game than Colt. I'll go with Oklahoma to get a late cover.

OU 42 Texas 31

Mike: Oklahoma (-7)

In a year where the noon games have been somewhat blasé, it will be an absolute treat to start my Saturday with some Count Chocula, an ice cold Genny Cream Ale and the Red River Rivalry (formerly known as the Red River Shootout). Both teams have uniformly dominated their opponents each week, but unlike Texas, I cannot spot any conceivable weaknesses for Oklahoma. By contrast, Texas’ secondary remains somewhat untested and they have not seen anything like Sam Bradford and the Oklahoma offense. And while Texas has bested Oklahoma in the last three Red River Rivalries, it is about time for Bob Stoops to reassert his dominance over Mack Brown in this series.

Oklahoma 41 Texas 28

Doug: Texas +7

Probably my biggest flyer of the week. If you had asked me to make a pick on this game before the season started, I would have taken OU no matter what the line was. OU has dominated Texas in this series since Stoops has been there. Stoops consistently outcoaches Mack Brown in this series, and the next time I trust Mack Brown in a big game would be the first time. Everything I have to come to know about sports is telling me that I should take the OU-7 and laugh all the way to the bank.

Something is pulling me toward Texas though. Ever since that dominant bowl win at ASU, it seems like they have been on a mission. Texas has always had the talent, but now they appear to have added a killer instinct that they lacked in the past. I watched a good chunk of the Texas-Colorado game, and I haven't seen them play with that type of attitude since the Vince Young era.

A couple quick coaching notes here. First, you have to love Major Applewhite as the new offensive coordinator at Texas. It sounds like he has really changed the face of that offense. You could feel it going all the way back to his days as a player. Major Applewhite has coaching superstar written all over him. He did his little stint with Nick Saban, and now he has come home to Texas. I have no doubt that Major Applewhite will be the head coach at Texas someday.

Second, new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is really making a difference with that defense. He has taken the physical SEC style and brought it to Texas. If you took off the uniforms, this defense would resemble an SEC-style defense. If you look back at Muschamp's history, he designed the defensive game plan for LSU in 2003 when they beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. I would imagine that he will have some stuff in store for OU on Saturday.

Just call it a hunch. Part of me just wants to have a reason to bet on and root for Texas because I already have Colt McCoy going for my fantasy team. I hate the idea of betting against Bob Stoops in a big game in the Big 12 and really would not be surprised if OU rolls Texas yet again, but I have a feeling that Texas is going to make a statement on Saturday.

Hook Em!

Texas 30 OU 27

(PS, when OU wins this game 31-3, someone remind me of this potentially awful prediction).

Oklahoma State +13.5 at Missouri (ESPN2 8pm)

Dan: Missouri -13.5

Matt: Oklahoma State +13.5

When everyone talks about the prolific offenses of the Big 12, they forget to include the juggernaut that has been rolling in Stillwater. Granted, the competition hasn't been great, but Coach Gundy has them playing some good ball these days. I think Oklahoma State can just hang around and match scores for a while and get a cover.

Missouri 49 Oklahoma State 38

Mike: Missouri (-13.5)

Despite being undefeated, Oklahoma State has not shown that they are anything other than the same old Cowboys; i.e., proficient in the passing game, but porous on defense and otherwise soft (notwithstanding Mike Gundy’s post-game bravado). Even though Oklahoma State will not be physically challenged by a similarly finesse Missouri squad, the ‘Pokes defense will be unable to contend with a downright scary Tiger offense captained by the impeccable Chase Daniel. This game should be similar to last week’s Missouri-Nebraska contest in terms of pace, style and final outcome.

Missouri 45 Oklahoma State 27

Doug: Oklahoma State +13.5

I know I won't be the only one to make this joe, but oh well. Mike Gundy is DOIN EVERYTHING RIGHT these days. He's a man, he's 40, and he's got the Cowboys playing good football.

Missouri is a great team, but that 13.5 point line is GARBAGE. THAT'S GARBAGE! Oklahoma State has scored over 35 points in every game this season. They are going to score on Mizzou's defense. I think they can find a way to hang around in this game as long as they don't turn it over a bunch.

Your NCAA stat of the week. Missouri has not had a 3 and out this year. That's unreal!! They are an offensive machine. I'm not even through this entry, and I'm already regretting my pick a little bit.

Wouldn't Oklahoma State be a great home and home for ND?? I completely forgot until starting the "Boys will be Boys" book that Jimmy Johnson used to coach at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are usually good for 7-8 wins a year. I would much rather play a home and home with Oklahoma State than yet another sries with Purdue. I've heard some great things about Stillwater (especially Eskimo Joes). That could be a fun road trip.

Missouri 44 Oklahoma State 33

Minnesota +11.5 at Illinois (ESPN 12pm)

Dan: Minnesota +11.5

Matt: Illinois -11.5

I might have to consider my stance on Illinois and the Juice, as he has become a much more effective passer this year. I will not rethink my stance on Minnesota. While giving a tip of the cap to the Gophers and Coach Tim "Punky" Brewster for the dramatic improvement in win total from last year (1), let me just say that I'm not buying. I think this one gets ugly.

Illinois 38 Minnesota 17

Mike: Minnesota (+11.5)

Each week, I keep waiting for the 2008 Minnesota team to start playing like the 2007 Minnesota team, but it never seems to happen. At this point, therefore, it may be time for me to concede that Tim Brewster has actually improved the Golden Gophers significantly. Minnesota’s mettle should be tested this week in Champaign, however, against a tough Illinois squad coming off a big time beatdown at the Big House. Then again, while Illinois has a significant talent edge, it would seem appropriate for a Ron Zook team to play down to the level of its competition. Look for a spoiled homecoming for the Illini.

Minnesota 24 Illinois 21

Doug: Illinois -11.5

It always makes a little nervous when everything is telling me to go in a certain direction. I really like this Illinois team. They have playmkaers, their defense is getting better, and Juice Williams is emerging as a legtimate weapon on offense.

Minnesota is a little better than last year, but they are still a goofy team and can't be trusted on the road. I think Illinois can win this game by a couple touchdowns.

I think Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn are two of the top 5 offensive players in the Big 10. In fact, this would probably be my list of the top 5 based on guys I've seen so far:

5. Evan Royster
4. Juice Williams
3. Arrelious Benn
2. Javon Ringer
1. Beanie Wells

Illinois 30 Minnesota 13

Michigan State -3 at Northwestern (ESPN2 3:30pm)

Dan: Michigan State -3

Matt: Michigan State -3

Michigan State 24 Northwestern 17

Mike: Michigan State (-3)

Pat Fitzgerald has done a very nice job at Northwestern under tough circumstances following the death of Randy Walker and the Cats are off to a 5-0 start in 2008. One flaw that I have observed, however, is that Northwestern tends to place an undue emphasis upon their underwhelming passing game to the detriment of their superior running attack led by Tyrell Sutton. By contrast, Mark D’Antonio, in relying heavily on Javon Ringer each week, has shown that he clearly knows which side his bread is buttered on. Sparty will wear down Northwestern on the ground for a tough road win, thereby setting up a fantastic battle against the Buckeyes at Spartan Stadium next week.

Michigan State 27 Northwestern 21

Doug: Northwestern +3

Interesting battle for middle of the pack supremacy in the Big 10. Michigan State has a formula to win road games with their running game and physical style, but I'm a little dubious about how good they actually are this year. I don't trust Brian Hoyer all. His 47% completion percentage is not going to get it done in a big game on the road. I'm not completely sold on their defense either.
Not all is lost on the Michigan State front though. The best high school team in Columbus this year (Pickerington Central) has four Division I football recruits on their roster (including two headed to Ohio State), and the best player of those four is headed to Michigan State next year . Just thought that was interesting. Things are definitely looking up in East Lansing going forward.
How about those Northwestern Wildcats?? Great start for them. They haven't beaten anyone notable, but wins on the road at Duke and Iowa are solid wins for them. It is always good for the Big 10 when Northwestern is good. They give the league a little teeth in the middle. Really happy to see Pat Fitzgerald doing well up there.

Call it a hunch, but I think Northwestern will find a way to win this game. MSU has Ohio State next week, so they could be looking ahead. Don't look now, but Northwestern has a very real opportunity to start out the season 9-0. That would be pretty amazing.

Northwestern 31 Michigan State 28

Rutgers +9 at Cincy (ESPN Game Plan 12pm)

Dan: Rutgers +9

Matt: UC -9

Rutgers stinks this year. Take advantage of this line before Vegas catches on. This is your father's Rutgers.

UC 34 Rutgers 9

Mike: Rutgers (+9)

The Scarlet Knights actually put up a fight last week in Morgantown, thus temporarily dispelling rumors of dissension in the ranks after Mike Teel played Buddy Ryan to his teammate’s Kevin Gilbride at the end the Navy game. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Rutgers should be considered a contender in the Big East, but I do expect improved play in the upcoming weeks. Brian Kelly should be commended for coaxing solid offensive play out of an offense that is down to its third string quarterback (fourth if you count Ben Mauk), but there will come a point where the injuries under center will come back to haunt the Bearcats. It won’t be this week, unless of course you decide to throw a little coin on Cinci (or the over).

Cincinnati 23 Rutgers 17

Doug: Cincinnati -9

The Bearcats are down to their 4th QB or something like that, but it doesn't seem to matter. The Brian Kelly machine keeps rolling along. He could probably pull a guy from the stands to run that offense. Cincy is underrated, and I think they are going to annihilate Rutgers. The Bearcats are flying under the radar for the Big East championship. They have some QB issues, but I am not ruling out the possibility that they might win the Big East.

From what I've been hearing, Demetrius Jones is not even close to taking over the QB position at UC. He's currently 3rd on the depth chart behind two redshirt freshmen. Apparently Brian Kelly is not happy with him, and DJ still doesn't know the offense. Not good. That guy is wasting his talent.

For all you Cincinnati readers out there, it's time to get on board with this UC program. I'm expecting a sellout on Saturday at Nippert Stadium. Sell your Bengal tickets for godsakes and buy some UC football season tickets. Why would you continue to flush your money down the drain on the Bengals when you can throw your support toward a fun, exciting LOCAL (I know how obsessed Cincinnatians are with supporting all things local) college team that actually plays in a BCS conference now?? Not only will you enjoy UC football more than you have ever enjoyed any Bengal football from the last 18 years, but you can also stick it to Mike Brown and send a message to Bengals management that you intend to allocate your entertainment dollars elsewhere. There is a great option right down the road in Clifton. STOP spending your money on the Bengals. It is only prolonging the misery, and it gives Mike Brown even less incentive to bring in a GM and a credible person to run his organization. Mike Brown has no desire to give up any control or do what it takes to create a winning organization (hiring a GM, adding scouts, bringing accountability, spending money up to the cap), but Brian Kelly and the UC administration are the complete opposite. They actually want to win. Show them your support on Saturday.

Go over to the Skyline Chili in Clifton, grab some three ways, set up a little tailgate on Calhoun Street (or head over to Uncle Woodys), and go enjoy the game at one of America's oldest football stadiums. I can promise you that it is much more entertaining than anything that has ever gone on down at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati 27 Rutgers 7

Nebraska +21 at Texas Tech (FSN 3pm)

Dan: Nebraska +21

Matt: Texas Tech -21

I would have taken this line if it was 41. Doug got into it earlier in the week, but it's a legitimate question to ask: Will Nebraska ever be Nebraska again? It's going to get REALLY ugly in Lubbock this weekend. Mike Leach doesn't give a turd about running up the score.

Texas Tech 62 Nebraska 31

Mike: Nebraska (+21)

On paper, this has all the makings of another Texas Tech bloodletting. The Red Raiders embarrassed a weak Kansas State secondary last week and now they set their sights on a Nebraska defense that has offered little resistance other than apparently spitting on their opponents, as alleged by Chase Daniel. Still, the Husker defense, even without the Blackshirt label has to show some pride eventually, don’t they? As a rule, I do not play hunches, but I have an unshakeable gut feeling that Nebraska will play inspired football this week for Bo Pelini, albeit in defeat.

Texas Tech 31 Nebraska 28

Doug: Texas Tech -21

WOW. It is sad when Nebraska is a 21 point dog to Texas freaking Tech, and yet I found myself saying "man, only 21 points?" Nebraska blows. What does that say about the ACC when Nebraska almost beat Virginia Tech??

Even though I think Texas Tech will win this game big and probably score 40-50 points, I' not buying into Texas Tech at all. Their stumbles will start to come next month when they play Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma all in a row.

Texas Tech 43 Nebraska 17

Penn State -5 at Wisconsin (ESPN 8pm)

Dan: Penn State -5

Matt: Penn State -5

Yawn. This is the best ESPN could do in primetime? Give me Vandy - Mississippi State over this.

Penn State 27 Wisconsin 17

Mike: Wisconsin (+5)

After allowing two consecutive fourth quarter comebacks, Wisconsin’s psyche could be a serious issue. Although the Badgers have another opportunity to knock off a highly ranked team at home, one must wonder whether Bret Bielema’s outfit will be able to summon the requisite energy to defeat a supremely confident and talented Penn State squad. In light of Wisconsin’s sterling record in night games at Camp Randall, however, I cannot justify laying five points to a team that is facing its first true road test of the season. Penn State may find a way to win this game, but they will not cover.

Penn State 24 Wisconsin 21

Doug: Wisconsin +5

Tough to say how good Wisconsin is after watching them last week. Allan Evridge is not a particularly good quarterback, and you have to wonder if Wisconsin can get off the next mat again after another heartbreaking loss.

Penn State is a good team with a really good o-line and defense, but I think Wisky can win this game. If you really think about that OSU game, Wisky controlled the game for the most part. Their line is tough, it's another big game in Madison, and Wisky really needs this game. Bielema is a good coach, so I can't see the Badgers throwing in the towel on the 2008 season just yet. If Penn State actually pulls this game out, I'm bumping them up into the top 5.

How bizarre was that Wisconsin band suspension last week?? Strange stuff. That Wisky-OSU game felt like a pro game in some ways with the piped-in rock n jock music.

One last fantasy note on this game. Is there any reason why John Clay isn't the feature back for this Wisconsin offense?? He is better than PJ Hill. I know PJ Hill is a senior, but Wisky was pounding the ball with John Clay. Could be a fantasy sleeper in the second half of the year.

Wisconsin 17 Penn State 13

Tennessee +13 at Georgia (CBS Sports 3:30pm)

Dan: Tennessee +13

Matt: Georgia -13

I've been reading some of the articles in the papers about Philip Fulmer, and it's not looking pretty. Northern Illinois was playing their 3rd string QB and almost came out of Knoxville with a win. I'm not even joking when I say that if UT had lost to freaking NIU that Phil Fulmer would have needed a police escort out of the stadium. There is not a doubt in my mind that some local hopped up on moonshine would have out and out murdered him on his way home. Forget about keeping it close between the hedges.

UGA 27 UT 7

Mike: Georgia (-13)

Following another uninspired performance at home against Northern Illinois, Phil Fulmer and his staff are definitely in crisis mode. Simply put, the Vols are devoid of any sort of passing game and former backup quarterback Nick Stephens will be nothing more than bait for a hungry Bulldog defense. Georgia’s players will be well rested and eager to get the bad taste of the Alabama game out of their mouths. The result, unless you’re an UGA fan, will not be pretty.

Georgia 31 Tennessee 0

Doug: Tennessee +13

Tennessee stinks, but 13 points in the SEC?? That's like those ludicrous double digit lines that you see in the NFL. I couldn't believe people were taking Dallas -17 last week against the Bengals. I'm not sure I would have taken Dallas at -7.5. Same goes for this game. It wouldn't stun me if Tennessee got throttled in this game, but I can't talk myself into that many points.

This game sort of bums me out. Tennessee-Georgia is one of those games that we should be excited about for this weekend, and yet it's not even on my radar. CBS cannot be happy that Tennessee and Auburn have looked as shaky as they have through the first half of the season.

Yo Vols, you've seen what a great head coach can do for a sports program (see Pearl, Bruce and Summit, Pat). Phil Fulmer has won a lot of games and certainly deserves recognition for a successful career as head coach at Tennessee, but he has run his course. Time for some new blood in Knoxville.

Georgia 20 Tennessee 10

South Carolina (pick) at Kentucky (Raycom 12pm)

Dan: South Carolina

Matt: UK

Kentucky 17 USC 15

Mike: South Carolina (pick)

Has Spurrier’s team turned the corner after a big road win at Mississippi? We will find out this week when South Carolina travels to Lexington to face a terrific Kentucky defense. Fortunately for the Ole Ball Coach, Carolina has an outstanding defense of its own and they should make life miserable for Mike Hartline and the weak Wildcat offense. This will be a classic SEC slugfest and I like the Gamecocks to squeak out a hard fought win in enemy territory.

South Carolina 16 Kentucky 13

Doug: Kentucky

Perhaps Kentucky is not as good as they looked last week, but they do look like at least a top 35 team. Where did UK get all those big bodies on the d-line?? Either UK is on the verge a major recruiting scandal (it wouldn't be the first time), or Rich Brooks is doing a great job bringing some talent to Lexington. Can't say that I was too impressed with QB Mike Hartline (brother of Ohio State WR Brian Hartline), but they have some athletes.

I would love to see South Carolina get whipped in this game just for all the trash talk Steve Spurrier used to throw out about UK when he was at Florida. What goes around comes around. Life in the SEC isn't quite as easy when you can't reach into those Southwest Florida counties for all your football talent.

Cmon UK fans, put down those Breeder Cup pre-race reports, and get on board with this UK football team! Hopefully they'll have a raucous atmosphere down at Commonwealth Stadium this weekend.

Kentucky 20 South Carolina 17

Vanderbilt -2.5 at Mississippi State (Check Local Listings 2:30pm)

Dan: Vandy -2.5

Matt: Vandy -2.5

Vandy 20 Miss St. 3

Mike: Vanderbilt (-2.5)

Although I admire the job that Bobby Johnson has done this year, the Commodores have relied upon an unsustainable turnover margin and the dual running/passing threat of Chris Nickson to keep opposing defenses honest. Mackenzi Adams has some experience at quarterback and he played well in relief of Nickson last week, but Vanderbilt will struggle to move the ball against a tough Bulldog defense. On the other hand, Starkville has never been a particularly imposing environment for opposing teams and, given Vanderbilt’s long history of futility, there is no reason to believe that the Commodores will overlook Mississippi State, even with Georgia lurking on the immediate horizon. Do not sell your Vandy stock just yet: there is one more week of growth remaining.

Vanderbilt 21 Mississippi State 17

Doug: Vandy -2.5

Vandy, the football school!! That student section was pure comedy last week. It was like a Cubs game. A bunch of popped collars hoping that the Commodores would score more "runs" than the Tigers. Gotta love Vandy football fever.

Interesting stat here. Vandy is only averaging 278 yards of offense a game and only 96 yards a game through the air. How are they pulling this off?? It seems like they are winning with smoke and mirrors so far. Those stats concern me a little bit, but Vandy has already gotten it done on the road at Ole Miss and has a great shot to get another road win down in Starkville. I know Miss State is coming off a bye week and probably will be fired up to pull the upset, but I can't buy into that horrendous offense.

Great to see all these academic schools showing some life on the gridiron. Vandy, Northwestern, Wake, and even Duke!! I refuse to throw ND into this category because I don't think of us as some sort of academic charity case and cling to the idea that we are still a major power in football.

Just a quick thought. Why doesn't ND get a 4 team rotation with Vandy, Wake, NU, and Duke and open the year with one of those schools every year?? Wouldn't that make sense?? You could even throw Stanford in there as an option, and that would open up Stanford's spot for a different home and home.

Vandy 13 MSU 10

Arizona State +25 at USC (ABC 3:30pm)

Dan: Arizona State +25

Matt: ASU +25

I honestly wouldn't be surprised here if USC won by 50, but I can't in my right mind pick a preseason Top 10 team to lose by 25. Show some pride here Sun Devils!

USC 31 ASU 17

Mike: Arizona State (+25)

Arizona State struggled offensively against Cal last week and it is hard to believe that their offensive line will be able to repel this powerful USC defense. In addition, things could get really scary if Rudy Carpenter cannot play. Perhaps against my better judgment, however, I think that the Sun Devils will muster enough firepower to cover this massive spread, especially if Mitch Mustain is forced to log significant minutes for USC. Also, concentration is always a concern for the Trojans, whose ‘roid-addled brains may not be able to focus on the task at hand.

USC 41 Arizona State 21

Doug: Arizona State +25

This game is a gambler's nightmare. I wouldn't touch it because USC can probably name their score here even if Mark Sanchez is out this week. If they want to cruise to a 20 point win, they can do that. If they want to run it up and win by 40, the can probably do that too. I don't know where to go in this game. It sounds like Rudy Carpenter is really banged up, and ASU seems like they are an absolute mess.

USC needs to put on a show to keep their national title hopes alive, but 25 points in a conference game against a team that won 10 games last year?? I know ASU has been lousy this year, but my gut tells me that is too many points. I think USC could certainly get up by 28 or something like that in this game, but I feel like there is a great chance for ASU to get some sort of backdoor cover.

On the subject of USC players, is Joe McKnight ever going to live up to his hype?? He has all the talent in the world, but I haven't seen him take over too many games. He's been a bit of a disappointment at USC, and now he's possibly losing his punt return duties.

Where does Mark Sanchez fit in with the game's top QBs?? I'd probably have him somewhere in my top 10. Does Matt Leinart's meltdown in the NFL hurt Sanchez's potential draft stock?? Sanchez seems like a good guy, but I'm not gonna lie that I'd be a bit leery.

USC 40 ASU 17

LSU +4 at Florida (CBS Sports 8pm)

Dan: LSU +4

Matt: Florida -4

Wow, I can't wait to nestle up to the bar somewhere on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill after a big Irish win and watch this one. I know that Florida has been struggling, but their offense is still potentially explosive. They still have Mssrs. Tebow and Harvin, and that is good enough for me. I think Urban dials up a gameplan just good enough to beat the Hat by a TD.

Florida 24 LSU 17

Mike: LSU (+4)

Les Miles, a/k/a The Riverboat Gambler, brings a confident LSU team into the Swamp against Florida that appears to be on the ropes. Last week, the Gators struggled for three quarters against a miserable Arkansas team before eventually pulling away with some big plays in the running game (and earning a BS late cover in the process). As such, it is officially time to wonder whether opposing defenses have finally figured out how to put the clamps on Urban Meyer’s estrogen-infused offense. Although this game is in Gainesville, I believe that Florida will get their comeuppance this week against a focused Tiger defense.

LSU 24 Florida 20

Doug: LSU +4

WOW. What a ballgame we have in store for us down in Gainesville. I'm hoping to saddle up to a good sports bar on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill to check this one out. How about CBS Sports getting into the night game action?? I love it. Just hearing that CBS college football music in my head and thinking about Verne and Gary at night in a raucous environment down at The Swamp has me fired up.

I feel like I am driving the bus for the LSU bandwagon these days, but I really think LSU has a great shot to go into Gainesville and win this game. If you look at every position on the field other than quarterback, I'd give the edge to the LSU Tigers. Their d-line is the best in college football, their offensive line is really really good, and their receivers and running backs are fast and explosive. I just love watching LSU play football. They come at you hard with physical, power football for 60 minutes. Over the course of sixty minutes, LSU wears their opponent down and then takes over in the fourth quarter. They will go all out to try to win the battle up front against the Gators, and I think they have a great shot to do it.

Florida has loads of talent and Urban Meyer is as good a big game coach as anyone in the country, but haven't we seen Florida get physically beat up several times in the last couple years?? I think that is their Achilles heel. If you come at them with a physical style and punch them in the mouth, they don't respond very well. Georgia did it to them last year, and even Michigan pounded the ball on Florida's defense. LSU pounds the ball on the ground (200 yards a game rushing), and I think they can run the ball on Florida.

Florida absolutely needs this game on Saturday, so I expect them to give it there best shot. Tebow is a warrior, and he is not going to go down easy. The problem with Florida is that they are so reliant on Tebow and Harvin. It's insane. Every play is some sort of effort to squeeze the ball into Harvin's hands. While he is obviously an amazing talent, there is not a whole lot of balance in the Florida offense. They could be especially one-dimensional against LSU, who is only giving about 70 yards on the ground a game. I think Florida is a good team, but I like the matchups for the LSU Tigers.

One MAJOR concern for LSU though. Quarterback play. Jarrett Lee grew up quite a bit in that Auburn game, but he can't regress this week in The Swamp. If he becomes a turnover machine again down there, LSU is in big trouble.

Should be a great ballgame. While OU-Texas is the game of the weekend, I'm actually looking forward to this game more (especially after Ricky Jean-Francois started talking about trying to knock Tebow out of the game). Les Miles has a chance to add to his growing legend if he finds a way to win this game.

Geaux Tigers.

LSU 23 Florida 21

Notre Dame +7 at UNC (ABC or ESPN mirror 3:30pm)

Dan: Notre Dame

Matt: Notre Dame

I'm going to the game, I'm fired up to see the Irish for my one and only time this year, so there is no way in hell I'm picking against the Irish. And it's not just my heart talking. Jimmy Clausen is playing the QB position as well as anyone right now, and that includes names like Bradford, Harrell, Tebow, McCoy. It's just a fact. And I've watched a few UNC games this year, and haven't been overly impressed. They're good, but nothing that ND should not be able to beat. Does beating UConn or the U really impress anyone? On top of that, all of the UNC people I go to school with aren't even really fired up about this game! They're more concerned with who is going to back up Ty Lawson than they are with the football team. I really think that being good at football is not something they were ready for this year. Rumor has it that a lot of ND fans snatched up UNC season tickets just to get tickets to this game, so look for more than a few Irish fans in the crowd to make some noise.

ND 35 UNC 31

Mike: North Carolina (straight up)

Big opportunity here for this upstart Irish squad. Last week, North Carolina served Connecticut with a healthy dose of its own medicine by blocking three punts and forcing three Zach Fraser interceptions, thus allowing the Heels to notch a blowout victory despite being outgained by over 100 yards. This week, however, Carolina will face a much tougher challenge against Jimmy Clausen, who is rapidly developing quarterback into a bona fide star, as opposed to Notre Dame’s former fourth-string quarterback. Unfortunately, Notre Dame remains unable to run the ball consistently, so the pressure will be squarely on Clausen to carry the load for the rest of the season. I shudder to think what might happen if Clausen were to get injured.

On the other side of the ball, Carolina has a veteran offensive line, a strong stable of running backs (including former ND verbal commitment Greg Little) and an explosive group of receivers. Nonetheless, the quarterback position is a major question mark for the Tar Heels, so the Irish defense has another opportunity to force some turnovers against the young Cam Sexton. I expect big plays from the ND defense, but I also expect Carolina to move the ball with relative ease on the ground and hit one or more big gainers through the air. The difference in this game, I fear, will be the fact that UNC has two decent kickers, while ND has zero.

North Carolina 31 Notre Dame 28

Doug: Notre Dame

For you scheduling hawks out there, this game in Chapel Hill might be the last chance over the next few years for ND fans to take a road trip outside of the slate of usual ND opponents. Hopefully Jack Swarbrick will take notice of the excitement and hoopla surrounding this game and make sure that there are more interesting series like this one lined up in the future. Looking forward to it.

I don't think there is any question that UNC is the best team that we've played this year. They have some big time playmakers at WR, their defense is fast and athletic, they have some beef up front on the d-line, and they are fairly battled tested through their first five games.

Some keys to this game on Saturday for the Irish.

1) Turnovers - As we have seen so many times in college football, you can't lose the turnover battle if you want to win ballgames. ND did not have a turnover in the last two games, and turnovers killed us in the Michigan State game (among other things). UNC has been living off turnovers this year. Case in point, they have actually been outgained in yardage totals this year, and yet they are 4-1 and have occasionally looked dominant. We cannot afford to turn the ball over in this game and give UNC good field position all day long.

If ND has no fumbles and no INTs in this game, it will probably be something we look back on when breaking down an Irish victory on Saturday.

2) Clausen - I'll just go ahead and say it right now. There is no way we are going to be effective running the ball in this game. NO CHANCE. It's a road game, UNC is going to be jacked up, we couldn't run the ball on Stanford, and the Tar Heels have two mammoth defensive tackles who are going to clog up our running lanes for most of the afternoon. If you set the over/under on rushing yards for ND in this game, I'd put it at around 50 and take the under. If we couldn't do anything on the ground against Michigan State, we're not going to do it against North Carolina.

This game is going to be entirely on Clausen's shoulders. I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad thing, but it's a fact in this game. Clausen is going to have to carry this team through the air. UNC's defense is pretty tough, but I've actually seen teams throw on them down the field. Floyd and Tate are going to find room over the middle, and I think Rudolph will be a big part of this offense again this week. Clausen is going to be in a lot of 3rd and long situations all day on Saturday, and we are going to need him to come through.

Clausen is the real deal, and he has two wide receivers who can make plays for him. Clausen and Floyd are the best QB-WR combo the Tar Heels have faced this season. If he can carry this team to a win on Saturday, he is really going to start turning some heads around the country.

3) Line of Scrimmage - As is always the case in a big game, we cannot afford to get manhandled at the line of scrimmage. While we are hopefully in the process of upgrading our beef and toughness up front, let's be honest. We are still a finesse team that doesn't really like to get physical down in the trenches. Most of our offense comes through the air on the edges, and our defense is your classic bend but don't break defense. We stiffen up in the red zone, but this defense still gets gashed repeatedly on the ground for big yardage.

I don't expect to win every battle up front, but our o-line needs to hold up on Saturday and not turn into a turnstile. If UNC is in our backfield getting pressure on Clausen all day, turnovers are inevitable and it will be a long day.

4) Athleticism - While we certainly have a lot of talent on this team, I feel like this is going to be one of those games where ND fans turn to the person next to them in the 2nd quarter and say "am I crazy, or does UNC look like they are much faster and more talented than us??" UNC has some major speed at WR. Tate and Nicks look like NFL type players with speed and size. Their DBs and LBs are fast and fly to the ball. Even their d-linemen looked explosive and quick.

The key for the Irish is going to be toughness and execution. This game feels a lot like the Georgia Tech game in 2006. They were fast and flew around, but we quietly went about our business, ran our offense, and made plays. If we come out and execute, we can make some things happen.

5) Life on the Road - From what I have seen out of UNC this year, they are going to come out of the tunnel like gangbusters on Saturday. The crowd is going to be jacked, and people are talking like this game is the biggest game at UNC in 10+ years. I think we are going to get their best shot in the first quarter. Can we match their intensity right from the start?? Guys like Brian Smith and Pat Kuntz and David Bruton and Sam Young are going to have to set the tone right from the start. If we come out soft, it's going to be a struggle.

6) Coaching - While Weis has the potential to be a good head coach, Butch Davis has shown the ability to build programs and winning teams. I don't doubt that they are going to be very focused heading into this game.

Isn't it getting to be that time for Weis to come through with a breakthrough win though in a game that he isn't expected to win?? Weis is in his fourth year, and you could count the number of big wins for Weis on one hand (if you even need that many fingers). ND has the talent to beat North Carolina. If Weis wants to keep the momentum going for this program, I hope he has us ready to play and win this game on Saturday. I can live with a close loss, but a win would be a great sign for the future of this program. Likewise, a blowout loss would be very disappointing.

One last Weis note. Does he really need to be talking about whether or not we should be ranked if we beat UNC?? I know he was probably responding to a question, but what is the point in responding?? To talk about whether or not ND will be ranked when we beat UNC is at best, premature, and at worst, bulletin board material for UNC and all the ND haters. It's almost like Weis can't help himself. This thing comes off like that "cheeseburgers" comment that ended up looking completely silly when the team that jumped us (florida) ended up winning the national championship that year. Just say that you are taking every game one at a time, and that you can't control the polls. Focus on the game at hand and let the rankings take care of themselves.

If it wasn't clear already, I can pretty much guarantee that I'm going to pick ND to win every game we play this year except maybe USC. This game is certainly going to be tough, but let's not go overboard about UNC. They are a top20ish team with an offense that is still a work in progress, a good defense, and a really good college coach, but it's not like we're going down to Baton Rouge or Gainesville or Tuscaloosa this weekend. It's North Carolina. They are only in the second year of a rebuilding project and far from a finished project.

There is no reason to "fear" North Carolina. This would be like a UNC fan fearing a trip to the JACC during the hoops season. Is it a dangerous game?? Yes. But a good team should be able to go to Chapel Hill and win this game.

We have just as many good skill players as UNC. Clausen has the ability to throw this team on his back and win the game, and we are pretty much going to need him to do that.

I think the Irish steal this game on the road, and I'm already looking forward to celebrating on Franklin Street after the game.

ND 20 UNC 17

Last week -

Dan: 8-8-0
Matt: 9-7-0
Mike: 9-7-0
Doug: 8-8-0

Season -

Dan: 33-25-3
Matt: 50-39-3
Mike: 47-42-3
Doug: 50-39-3

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