September 29, 2009

WEISND Roundtable Week Five Picks: Notre Dame-Washington, Michigan-Michigan St, USC-Cal, Miami-Oklahoma, LSU-Georgia, and more

Man, fall came out of nowhere this week. I walked out of work this week and almost got knocked over by a gust of wind. What happened to 75 and sunny and late evening sunsets?? Didn't really get much warning on that 20 degree drop in temperature and 7pm dark skies this year. I love the fall weather, but not sure if I can handle another winter in the Midwest.

Then again, I also got a little hop in my step because the first sign of that fall weather is when the sports calendar peaks for me. Gotta love the month of October. Pound for pound, maybe the best sports month of the year. Baseball playoffs, college football and NFL in full throttle, and hoops and hockey just around the corner. There's almost too much going on in the sports world. The Columbus Blue Jackets are three days away from their opener, and I feel like I'm not even remotely ready for the season to begin.

In college football, this October is shaping up to be another epic month of monster games. Check out what is on tap these next few weeks:

October 3 -- Cal-USC, Miami-Oklahoma, LSU-Georgia
October 10 - Florida-LSU
October 17 - Oklahoma-Texas, Notre Dame-USC

Wow, it doesn't get much better than that.

Moving on to this week's picks:

Saturday October 3, 2009

Michigan (pick em) at Michigan State (Big Ten Network 12pm)

Jeremy: Michigan St. (Pick)

Forcier is banged up and the Wolverines go on the road for the first time this year. What a joke. Irish fans are up in arms about our proposed 7-4-1 schedule and Michigan plays 8 home games this year. Everyone and their mother has been throwing for big yards against a fairly porous Michigan secondary (as long as they stay away from Donovan Warren). Cousins looked fairly competent throwing the ball against ND and I expect him to do much of the same this week in East Lansing. With no home cooking, Forcier and the offense struggle to get things going and lose big.

MSU 34 Michigan 20

Dan: Michigan

Neither of these teams looked great last week. But other than against Notre Dame, Michigan State has not looked good in over a month. This is a tough call. Normally, Michigan State is pretty jacked up for the UM game. But at the same time, this looks like the predictable late season MSU collapse may come early this year. I think we’re closer to the latter than the former.

Michigan 34 MSU 24

Matt: Michigan State (pk)

I’m embarrassed with my picks this year. I’ve been giving the loyal readers absolute garbage, including an unblemished (in a bad way) Lock of the Week record. So I feel as if the legendary Brian Fantana was speaking to me when he said, “Take it easy Champ, why don’t you sit this one out. Stop talking for a while.” Picks only, you don’t need my analysis this week.

Michigan State 38 Michigan 35

Mike: Michigan State (pick)

Notwithstanding Michigan’s unbeaten record, neither of these two teams are particularly good (which, as an aside, should be viewed as an indictment of Notre Dame). The talent level appears to be relatively equal in this matchup, but there is no way that I am going to be on a Wolverine team with a banged up true freshman quarterback making his first ever road start. In addition, you can be certain that the Spartans will be plenty fired up to play this week, especially given their longtime status as a second class citizen (or, according to Mike Hart, “little brother”) in this rivalry.

Michigan State 38 Michigan 21

Doug: Michigan State -- LOCK OF THE WEEK

WOW. Extremely interesting game and probably one of the bigger games in the brief history of the Big Ten Network. I can't believe this game is not on ABC or ESPN. The noon ESPN game is Wisconsin-Minnesota, and the 3:30 ABC Big Ten game is Penn State-Illinois. Huh?? How are either of those games as interesting as a possible resurgent Michigan team going on the road for the first time with their freshman phenom QB against their in-state rival?? This is the game of the day in the Big Ten as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, first things first. Meeeeeeechigan. They are an exciting team and Rich Rodriguez has done a remarkable job thus far, but it's tough to really say how good they are at the moment. Michigan's defense is brutal, and Forcier is inevitably going to miss a game or two with injuries over the course of this season. He's already breaking down physically, and they haven't even hit their roughest part of the season yet. They still have games coming up with MSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State. At some point, he is going to either get knocked out of a game or be held out due to a lingering injury, especially if he's running the ball a lot.

With that said, I'm impressed with Tate Forcier, and I think he has the potential to be one of those Christian Laettner/JJ Redick type figures who is BELOVED by his own fans but HATED by every other team that plays against him. You can already see it coming, and we're only four games into the Tate Forcier era. The mere mention of his name at our tailgate last week just riled everyone up. He's like the perfect quarterback for Michigan. I think the hype about Forcier is justified. For a true freshman, he plays with an incredible amount of poise. I am going to enjoy rooting against him for the next four years, but I also expect to see him to win a whole lot of ballgames and some of them in dramatic fashion.

I was rooting like crazy for Indiana last week (they even had the IU-UM game on the concession stand tvs at the Horseshoe and it felt like an IU home game crowd in there), but I will say that college football is more interesting when Michigan is good. It's like Duke in college basketball. One of those teams that you love to root against.

Back to the game though. It would not shock me if Michigan pulled this game out, but it's their first road trip of the season against a Spartan team that NEEDS a victory. Mark Dantonio is not the type of coach who loses his team mentally, so I expect them to come out and really play inspired football. I was pretty impressed with Cousins and some of their skill players. Sparty will be able to move the football all over Michigan's porous defense. Even Indiana had 470 yards of offense against Michigan's defense. Indiana!! MSU can put up 35 points on Michigan this week.

As for Michigan, Forcier will make plays, but he's also playing this game with a banged up shoulder. Denard Robinson is going to play quite a bit, and we have no idea what he's going to do in his first road game. He could be a turnover machine. Rich Rodriguez is going to have to reach into every trick in the bag to pull this game out, and they are going to have to run the ball well. If they can limit MSU's possessions and come up with some stops on defense, they have a chance to win it in the end. With Forcier in the huddle, it seems like they have the ability to win games down the stretch if the game is close.

Personally, I think Michigan State wins this game unless Michigan's defense somehow gets dramatically better in the span of a week. Michigan is headed in the right direction, but they are due for a loss. Michigan State is going to be emotionally charged up to get a win in Big Ten play. I think they'll get it done.

Michigan State 31 Michigan 28

LSU +2.5 at Georgia (CBS Sports 3:30pm)

Jeremy: Georgia (-2.5)

How is LSU ranked in the top 5? The polls never fail to amaze. After the embarrassment against Okie St., the Dawgs have rebounded quite nicely, and that win over South Carolina is looking might impressive right about now. We covered the Richt vs. Miles in our preseason roundtable, and I think it becomes clear this week that Richt is the better coach and has the better team this year.

Georgia 31 LSU 24

Dan: Georgia -2.5

My initial thought was that LSU’s defense should hold up against Georgia and Georgia has no defense. But upon further review, the best two teams LSU has played this year were Washington and Mississippi and they’ve averaged 25 points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have played OK State, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona State. They are far more battle tested than the Tigers. And they are between the hedges. I’ll side with Vegas over the pollsters.

Georgia 34 LSU 31

Matt: Georgia (-2.5)

Georgia 34 LSU 28

Mike: Georgia (-2.5)

LSU may be ranked 4th in the nation, but they have been thoroughly unimpressive all year. The Bayou Bengals looked rather pedestrian in their first few games and they needed a miraculous goal line stand to avoid falling behind Mississippi State with one minute remaining last week in Starkville. On the other sideline, Mark Richt is probably ready for a breather at this point, as his 3-1 Bulldogs have been forced to navigate a challenging slate of opponents in the first four weeks, including a hard-fought win last week. Assuming that Georgia is not too drained from their early season gauntlet, emotionally or physically, they should take care of business against an overrated LSU team at home.

Georgia 28 LSU 21

Doug: Georgia -2.5

Color me bummed out that this game is on at the same time as the ND game. I'll probably take a peek at that game occasionally, but I usually am only paying attention to ND when we are playing. I'd love to settle in for a little Verne Lundquist-Gary Danielson and multiple "my goodness!!" lines from Verne. If I was Les Miles, I'd have Danielson on the payroll by now. You know Danielson will find about ten wrinkles and nuggets this week in film study.

Could LSU put it together and win this game straight up?? Yea, sure they could. I'd actually like to see them beat Georgia just to make that LSU-Florida game even more interesting the following week. But Georgia is battle-tested, and they have already had several pretty big wins so far. LSU really hasn't beaten anyone, and it's entirely possible that LSU is another 8 win fraud masquerading as a top ten team for the moment.

We discussed this in the offseason, but it's kind of amazing to me how both of these coaches are viewed among their fanbases. Mark Richt is 82-22 (.788) at Georgia in eight seasons at Georgia with six double digit win seasons. He's also 6-2 in bowl games. Meanwhile, Les Miles is 48-11 (.814) at LSU with three double digit win seasons in his first four years and a national title in 2007-08. He's 4-0 in bowl games at LSU, including 2-0 in BCS bowls. And yet Mark Richt is beloved in Athens while Les Miles is merely tolerated at LSU. EXPECTATIONS!! My god, Les Miles is winning 80% of his games at LSU and has already won a national title, and people talk about him like he's on the hot seat down there. He probably walks around and curses the name of Nick Saban for setting the bar so high at LSU. I know LSU has a TON of in-state talent, but it's not like the state of Georgia is producing MAC talent. Both states are very fertile, and Georgia can always dip into Florida for players.

Les Miles is one goofy dude and has a tendency to make games a lot closer than they should be, but the man continues to win ballgames. He gets the Phil Fulmer treatment down in Baton Rouge though, and the pressure will only ratchet up if he goes a couple years without getting LSU to the SEC Championship game.

I think these two teams are probably about even, so I'll go with Georgia at home. If they can get to 4-1 against that schedule, it would be one heckuva start for the Bulldogs.

Georgia 23 LSU 20

Oklahoma -7 at Miami (ABC Sports 8pm)

Jeremy: Oklahoma (-7)

Whew, it was getting a little crowded on that Miami bandwagon. Nice to have some air again. The Canes were whipped pretty badly last weekend in Blacksburg, but that’s happened to many a national title pretender over the years. The weather was terrible and some key turnovers really blew that game wide open. The Canes rebound, but don’t have enough to stick with the Sooners in the 4th quarter.

OU 27 Miami 17

Dan: Oklahoma -7 – LOCK OF THE WEEK

At the beginning of the year, I thought Miami would go 0-4. They’ve certainly surprised me at 2-1. Unfortunately for Miami fans, they did not look good at all last week. I think they are going to continue to regress. The Sooner defense will frustrate Jacory Harris with different looks and pressure, similar to Va Tech. Meanwhile, Demarco Murray continues to look better and Landry Jones is filling in well for Sam Bradford. Look for that trend to continue.

Oklahoma 31 Miami 20

Matt: Oklahoma -7

Boy, those Randy Shannon and Jacory for Heisman bus cleared out quickly. Is there anyone still aboard? I still have faith, but that was a huge egg they laid in Blacksburg.

Oklahoma 21 Miami 13

Mike: Oklahoma (-7)

Maybe this is a knee-jerk reaction, but stop this Miami bandwagon and let me off. While the Canes are clearly improved over last year, it is clear that they still have a long way to go before they are back among the nation’s elite. Unfortunately for Randy Shannon, Miami must play host to an angry Oklahoma team that is ready to reclaim its status as a bona fide national championship contender after being left for dead by most college football observers. Even if Sam Bradford does not play this week (and, as I type this post, it is still unclear), Oklahoma should be able to move the ball on the Hurricanes on the ground and through the air. Moreover, the Sooners’ defense should be able to use Bud Foster’s game plan last week as a blueprint for slowing Harris and the Miami offense.

Oklahoma 41 Miami 26

Doug: Oklahoma -7

Quick programming note here. Why did ABC decide to put OU-Miami and USC-Cal at the exact same time?? What are they thinking?? Is it just an excuse to get people to sign up for ESPN Game Plan this week?? The 3:30pm ABC games are horrible. Why not move one of these games to 3:30 and give the other one a national spotlight?? I think you could justify a national tv audience for either of these two games. Heck, if Penn State-Iowa and Texas Tech-Texas are national tv games, a USC-Cal or OU-Miami game surely can be considered a national game. USC is the marquee program in America these days, and OU-Miami is a heavyweight bout of the highest order. Two of the winningest programs of the last 25 years.

As for the game, I was hoping Miami would get a little more respect on this line with an OU -3.5 type line, but Vegas is pretty darn smart and making me indecisive. At 7 points, it's tempting to take Miami and hope they cover, but I honestly expect OU to go down there and win this game big. Miami has made substantial progress, but they aren't in the same class as Oklahoma these days. Oklahoma is one of the elite programs in America right now. Miami sort of reminds me of the ND program over the last 10 years in that we're a little too quick sometimes to proclaim a return to the glory years. Everyone seems to want to be the first one to say "MIAMI IS BACK!!" every couple years, but maybe we should just wait until we know it for sure before proclaiming it?? Elite teams don't get pounded like they did last week against Virginia Tech. I think Miami has a good team, but they are not "back" like they were in the 80s and 90s. It reminds me of the ND "return to glory" stuff that we get wrapped up in every few years. It's hard to put a finger on what it means to be "back," but we'll know it when we see it. It usually involves winning big games, blowing out inferior teams, and dominating on your home turf.

If I was Bob Stoops, I would almost sit down this week and figure out if he needs Sam Bradford to win this game. If he can get away with moustache man Landry Jones just to avoid a disruption in the team's rhythm, then that's what I'd do. Work Bradford back in slowly instead of rushing him into the fire against Miami. They have Baylor next week before the Texas game. Then again, maybe Stoops wants to see Bradford under the bright lights one time before Texas. It will be interesting to see what OU does on offense this week.

One other note. Coach Stoops, get the rock to my boy Demarco Murray!! I'm sort of waiting for him to break out at some point on my fantasy team. He's got the talent, but he's not getting enough touches. Time to change that up.

If this was 1989 and the game was at the Orange Bowl, I'd be taking Miami -17. But this game is at Pro Player Stadium, and Oklahoma is clearly the better program right now. Oklahoma destroyed Miami last year, and I expect them to beat them comfortably again this year.

Oklahoma 31 Miami 17

USC -6 at Cal (ABC Sports 8pm)

Jeremy: Cal (+6)

Another national title pretender bites the dust. I guess maybe we can call off the dogs on Chip Kelly. But this line is too high. USC hasn’t done anything so far this year to show that they’re capable of blowing out even a mediocre team. Will be interesting to see if Carroll loosens the reins on Barkley a bit this week.

USC 24 Cal 21

Dan: USC -6.5

We have two teams each with something to rally around here. How does Cal respond to their absolutely EMBARRASSING performance in Autzen last week (and expensive for many a gambler)? Meanwhile, does USC take the incredibly unfortunate injury (yet, lucky to be alive) to Stafon Johnson as a “win one for the Gipper” type moment? I think we’ll see USC follow Oregon’s defensive model and load up the box to stop Best, forcing Kevin Riley to win the game. Being at home will help, but not enough. Barkley continues to improve and make this his team, USC rallies around the injury to Johnson, and the defense frustrates Cal all day.

USC 20 Cal 10

Matt: Cal +6

USC 24 Cal 21

Mike: California (+6)

Despite last week’s shellacking at Autzen Stadium, I will remain steadfast in my assertion that Cal, which has not made the Rose Bowl in 50 years, can win the Pac-10 this year. The basis for this proclamation is primarily attributable to my belief that USC has declined considerably this year, as opposed to any belief that the Bears are substantially better in 2009 than they were in recent history. As for this week, a visit from an unusually vulnerable Trojans team should be the magic potion that will enable the Cal players to purge their collective memories of last week’s debacle and refocus on the task at hand. Even against a tough USC defense, Jahvid Best should get back on track this week for the Cal offense while, on the other side of the ball, the Bears will stifle Matt Barkley and the low powered USC passing attack. In a defensive battle, the host Bears will emerge with a critical upset win.

California 17 USC 14

Doug: USC -6

How about USC's schedule this year?? Road games with Ohio State, Cal, Oregon, and Notre Dame. Brutal. Even if they were the best team in the country this year, it would be almost impossible to go undefeated against that schedule.

If there was ever a game to show how different college football is from week to week, it would be this one. You have a USC team that has been all over the map through four games. Good enough to go to the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes at night, but then they lose to Washington the following week. Great defense, but inconsistent offense. Then you have a Cal team that was getting all sorts of hype and they go to Eugene and lose 42-3 to Oregon.

Cal lost by 39 to Oregon. THIRTY NINE POINTS!! That is unreal. If Cal is capable of losing by 39, what does that say about them?? I didn't get a chance to watch it. Did they just lay down?? Were they looking ahead?? Was it a fluke that the final score looked the way it did?? Is Cal just not that good of a team?? Cal hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in six quarters I believe, and their defense hasn't performed much better. It's very tempting for me to just write off Cal and proclaim them a fraud.

However, USC seems to have issues of their own. Barkley is the future at QB for the Trojans, but their offense really hasn't opened it up yet. I mean, Washington State is so miserable, and USC only puts 27 points up on them at home?? USC seems to be much more mistake prone this year with muffed punts and fumbles and stuff that you would see out of a sloppy, undisciplined team.

This USC team reminds me of their 2007 team that started out really slowly but really got it going at the end of the year. I remember watching them lose to Oregon on the road that year in a game where their offense just could not get it going at all. USC has had stretches in the last 3-4 years early in the year where they have a tough time scoring points.

Then again, everyone who is hitting the panic button on USC is a little premature if you ask me. Go back and look at some of their results over the last few years. They tend to go into a funk right around this time of year every single year, but it's not like they lose a bunch of games. USC is still USC. By the end of the year, I expect to see them throttling teams again. USC could start hitting on all cylinders at any point, so it's always risky to bet against them. Once their offensive coordinator and quarterback settle in, I think USC will be formidable again. Not that they aren't formidable already.

If you have any idea what to expect in this game, you know a lot more about football than me. College football has never been wackier from week to week than it has been this year, and these two teams are the epitome of that. Two Jekyll and Hyde teams in a league (The Pac 10) that has been completely unpredictable thus far.

In the end, USC usually finds a way to win these types of games. Both teams will be motivated, and I expect both teams to bring their best efforts. Could it be a close game?? Sure, but I could also see USC winning by 10 in this game and reclaiming their crown back as the king of the Pac 10. Heck, if I was USC, I would show up in Memorial Stadium wearing championship belts.

One final note on USC. Stafon Johnson. What the heck?? Sad story. He was bench pressing?? Where was his spotter?? How does a weight fall on you like that?? Guess that goes to show that you should always have a spotter. Very bizarre incident. I hope he's ok.

USC 23 Cal 16

Auburn +2 at Tennessee (ESPN 7:45pm)

Jeremy: Auburn (+2) – LOCK OF THE WEEK

I suppose I understand why Tennessee is favored in this game (Neyland), but I don’t really think they have much of a chance to win. Gus Malzahn has got the offense rolling for the Tigers and Tennessee hasn’t done much to impress thus far, other than playing a close game against the Gators. Of course, my picks this year have been abominable, so the Vols will probably roll by 3 TDs.

Dan: Auburn +2

Everyone laughed at the Gene Chizek hire, but he has the Tigers scoring points in bunches and winning football games. Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin is 0-2 against BCS conference teams (albeit – Florida and an underrated UCLA team), and after his offseason antics, you have to wonder how long the Volunteer faithful will remain quiet. The line seems to favor the fact that it is a night game, at Neyland, labeling the Vols a 2 point favorite. I wish I could agree. I don’t think the Vols have been impressive at all, while I put at least a little stock in Auburn’s 49 – 24 thrashing of Mississippi State. Look for Tennessee to struggle with the Auburn offense, leaving the conservative Tennessee offense struggling to play catch-up. Jonathan Crompton’s 7 – 8 TD to INT ration fails to improve as he throws a pick late trying to lead his team to a comeback.

Auburn 31 TN 24

Matt: Auburn +2 -- LOCK OF THE WEEK

Auburn 17 Tennessee 16

Mike: Auburn (+2) - Lock of the Week

I know this game is at Neyland Stadium, but Tennessee is simply terrible. For Auburn, Gus Malzahn has, yet again, engineered a remarkable improvement for the Auburn offense, which is looking downright unstoppable after being moribund last year. Incidentally, Malzahn’s name should be popping up as a possible head coaching candidate in the near future, considering his impressive track record thus far in the collegiate ranks. In the short term, the Tigers have far too much firepower for Lane Kiffin’s Vols this week.

Auburn 34 Tennessee 17

Doug: Auburn +2

Interesting game for two teams with new coaches and entirely new looks. The Vols almost NEED to win this game to give themselves a little momentum going forward. They have a pretty tough four game stretch here with Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. If Tennessee wants to go to a bowl game, I'm not sure they can afford to lose this game.

Meanwhile, Auburn is maybe the surprise story of the SEC so far, and they look like they have a legitimate shot to win 9 games this year. When you are playing the likes of Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss in the SEC, 9 wins is a pretty darn good year for a team in a rebuilding mode.

Auburn has turned into a little bit of a Big 12 team. Interesting move by the Tigers. They now have this wide open spread offense that might turn out to be a genius move for a program that doesn't recruit at quite the same level as an LSU or Alabama these days. Going to the spread is the great equalizer, and they are putting up some serious points this year.

The SEC is still the SEC, but there's a lot more variety among these teams now. In the last ten years or so, you could usually count on most SEC teams to play a pro style, ball control offense with an attacking physical defense. Think about all those titanic LSU-Auburn type games between two physical teams that just went mano e mano for three hours. Nowadays, you have Arkansas throwing it all over the place, Florida playing the spread option, Auburn running the spread, and Mississippi State running the spread option. Teams are really mixing it up, and there isn't as much emphasis on manning up and just dominating the guy across from you. These teams would rather run around you or throw over you. Certainly an interesting development.

I know Tennessee really needs this game and that they've already faced a spread attack this year, but I think Auburn is the better team. I'll say the Tigers get by in a squeaker. War Eagle!!

Auburn 27 Tennessee 21

Washington +13.5 at Notre Dame (NBC Sports 3:30pm)

Jeremy: Notre Dame

I know we’ve been saying this the last several weeks, but I don’t think this game is close. Washington doesn’t do anything particularly well. They don’t run it well, they don’t stop the run and they aren’t great against the pass. Locker is a nice weapon but he’s still generally completing just over 50% of his passes. Not good.

If Clausen and Allen are indeed reasonably healthy, ND should move the ball well on offense. I feel like a broken record, but this game should present a great opportunity for one of the other WRs to step up and grab the #2 spot behind Tate.

Weis has indicated that Te’o will be playing more this week, and I think Locker is the big reason. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Manti spying Locker for most of the game. Pretty sad to say that a freshman might be the surest tackler in the front 7 right now.

ND 34 Washington 21

Dan: Notre Dame

Again, not picking against the spread, I think the Irish will pull off the close win on Saturday. This may be one of the most absurd lines in Gambling I’ve seen in a while. Yes, I understand, that based on talent alone, Notre Dame should win this game by 14 points. I’ve seen the aftermath of a Willingham coaching era quite closely. The cupboard is bare in Washington. But we’ve also seen what Notre Dame brings to the table.

I think at this point we can throw out the Nevada game. Clearly, the Wolfpack are not a good football team. How did they not score on us? Our defense has more holes than Don Tattaglia. It doesn’t matter how bad Washington is, in general. Jake Locker will make plays and put up points. At this point, I don’t see another team on our schedule that won’t put up at least 21 points, and more likely 28+. So with that said, can we 35 – 42 points? Sure, it’s possible. But we know that Jimmy is still at least a little banged up. And this offense is just not as dangerous when Michael Floyd is not on the field. Armando is apparently fully healed, but I would imagine Weis rotates the backs to keep Armando rested. And, almost more importantly than all of that, Weis teams just historically do not blow teams out. Now, 14 points is not necessarily a blow-out, but I still think it is a stretch.

So with all that said, this feels like a game that Notre Dame jumps out to an early lead and then Weis, and then coasts to a 31-24 win where, despite feeling in control, leaves everyone nervous in the 4th quarter because one play brings Washington back into the game. Notre Dame wins, but the fans blood pressure continues to stay high.

Matt: Washington

Washington is an average football team. Unfortunately, so is Notre Dame with this defense and no Mike Floyd.

Washington 34 ND 31

Mike: Notre Dame

There is no real need for a deep analysis of this matchup. Notre Dame is far superior to Washington and the game is being played at Notre Dame Stadium, so this game should be a blowout. Unfortunately, the Irish will continue to make sloppy mistakes and their amateur head coach will make his usual share of bad decisions, thereby leading to an uncomfortably close game. The Irish will survive again, but all is not well in South Bend.

Notre Dame 24 Washington 23

Doug: Notre Dame

First things first, I am SHOCKED by this line. When I first saw it, I was completely taken aback. 13.5 feels extremely high for an ND team that is banged up and coming off three straight emotional games. I honestly thought this line would be like ND -6.5 or something like that, and maybe even less than that. We were only 7 point favorites over Purdue, and that suddenly has gone up to 13.5 against a Washington team that seems to be playing with a chip on its shoulder??
Who is taking ND -13.5 here?? Isn't the goal for Las Vegas to get equal betting both sides?? It almost makes me wonder if the good folks in Las Vegas know something that the general public doesn't about this game. They are trying to suck everyone into betting on Washington and then waiting for ND to pour it on.

I know Washington got pounded last week at Stanford in their first road game of the year, but I expect this game to be tight in the fourth quarter. I'm already anticipating another heart stopping game where Locker and Clausen are going back and forth down the field.

Some keys to the game:

1) The psychological game. -- I feel like I might as well say this one every single week. In college football, half the battle is which team shows up more motivated.

For Washington, you have to wonder if they are a mature enough football team to show up in South Bend and win a ballgame. They are one of those teams that is feisty enough to give you all you can handle at home, but on the road it's a different story. It is very early in the Steve Sarkisian era. I think people have forgotten that they went 0-12 last year. It's not like they were 6-6 with a bunch of returning starters. This was a team that needed a complete makeover. In 2-3 years when they have brought in new recruits and built up the program, the might be able to win a game like this one. But I think it's a pretty tall task right now for Washington. Even though they are playing with a lot of spirit right now, Ty Willingham did some serious damage to that program. It is not easy to win on the road in college football.

Washington has been a great story, but they got HAMMERED by Stanford last week. Stanford is an improved team, but no good team gets beat that badly by freaking Stanford. If Stanford can beat these guys up and down the field, why couldn't we do something similar??

Meanwhile, what can we expect from ND?? We are a mature team, but we've really been through the gauntlet so far. Think about what it must be like to be an ND player right now. We've played a war with Michigan that went down to the wire, another nail biter against Michigan State that went down to the last play, and then a comeback victory over Purdue in the last minute. This season has already been an emotional rollercoaster. How many weeks in a row can we keep this up?? This team really needs a breather game heading into the bye week.

I expect Washington to come out fired up for ND. Let's be honest, we're getting everyone's best shot every week. It's ND, it's the Golden Dome, it's NBC. They are coming off a loss, and this is a chance to make another splash in the national spotlight. If Sarkisian comes to ND and wins, he'll be the toast of the college football world all week.

Then again, the Irish have been OUTSTANDING early in games this year. Credit to Charlie Weis for having an aggressive game plan early in every game to grab a lead. We have led by double digits in the first half of every game this year I believe. The screens against Michigan were a brilliant move, the five wides wrinkle was great against Michigan State, and the Wildcat with Golden Tate was a great move for the Purdue game.

I would imagine that we will be ready to go against Washington. Not sure what the wrinkle will be, but I think we'll have something ready to go. Offensively, this team is similar to the 2005 team in that we always had a different look to throw at teams every week.

2) Can the Notre Dame offense control this game??

I've only watched Washington for a brief period of time against LSU, and the impression I get is that they are an undermanned unit that is trying to make up for personnel deficiencies with superior effort. But that can only take you so far. Washington has had problems stopping the run and the pass, and ND is the most balanced attack they've faced so far.

If I was Weis, I would come out firing again like we did against Michigan State. Come out with five wides and Jimmy throwing left and right. Get Washington on their heels and build a lead. If we can get them on their heels, then we can pound the ball on the ground. Armando Allen is back, and the running attack has looked great so far this year. Armando, Golden Tate in the Wildcat, Hughes with some power running. I haven't felt this good about the ND running game since the Bob Davie era. The line has been strong, the backs have looked good, and we've used some creative misdirection stuff to keep teams guessing.

I see no reason why ND can't score 30+ with a healthy Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen. It seems like we have been able to find some new wrinkles to make up for the loss of Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph is only going to get more and more involved in the offense as the year goes along.

3) How good exactly is Jake Locker??

I feel like I'm getting mixed reports on Jake Locker. Some people are saying he's the next Steve Young with a great mix of passing and running that makes him deadly in the college game. Other people are pointing to his pedestrian stats and wondering if all the hype is warranted.

Locker seems one of those guys like Ben Roethlisberger who is almost more dangerous when the play breaks down and he is on the run. He's fine as a drop back passer, but he scares me more as a duel threat guy who can run or pass. It will be interesting to see what Sarkisian does with him this week. Is he going to turn him loose or keep him in a drop back format?? The thought of Locker running wild on us and making plays outside the pocket is a scary one for me. If Tate Forcier and Kirk Cousins can run around and make plays, you know Locker is going to present some problems for our defense.

For Washington to have any shot, Locker would have to play a monster game. If he does, he's probably going to have a ton of buzz as an early entry guy for the 2010 draft. People will probably be talking about him as a Heisman candidate. If our defense can hold him in check, I don't see any reason why the Irish can't win this game by double digits.

4) Intangibles

ND is the better football team here. We're a veteran team filled with juniors and seniors playing in a system that we've been playing in for years. I know a lot of ND fans are wondering about this team, but I do think we're a much better team this year.

There are only a couple things that worry me here:

1) The lookahead effect -- Washington is pretty much going week to week here looking to get better every week as a football team. They surely aren't overlooking anyone or thinking long term. I expect them to come out and give us their absolute best shot for 60 minutes.

This ND team seems to have some issues focusing though. We'll look like gangbusters for a quarter and then fall asleep for awhile. With a bye week coming and USC lurking, are we going to come out and put the foot on the throat here or just let them hang around and make a game of it?? At some point, these funks that we go through are going to come back and bite us again. It's already happened once against Michigan and very nearly happened again against Michigan State.

If we lose focus and let Washington hang around, it's going down to the wire again. And if we're thinking about the bye week or looking ahead to USC, then we're really in trouble.

ND needs to put together a complete performance for 60 minutes and go into the bye week with a ton of momentum. If we could win this game like 31-17 and really look impressive, I expect to see us in the top 25 on Monday.

2) Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt -- I don't think Sarkisian or Holt will have a ton up their sleeve this week, but I am a little worried that their experience at USC will give them a little extra familiarity with how to give us trouble. Let's be honest, USC has owned us for years, and obviously Pete Carroll has figured out some keys to beating us. Part of it has been talent, but part of it has been some of their game plans. It always felt like there were multiple moments in the last few USC-ND games where they knew the play we were running before we even ran it. I remember some screens that we ran where they were already sniffing it out before Quinn or Clausen even threw the ball.

Considering how close those two guys were to the USC program, they are going to probably try to do things that have traditionally given us trouble under Charlie Weis. Get pressure on the quarterback, take away the screens, and force Charlie to stay committed to the running game. In terms of familiarity, Sarkisian and Holt are as familiar with what we do as any coaches in the country

Then again, maybe there isn't any magic game plan that Pete Carroll has been drumming up all these years, and maybe Sarkisian and Holt won't have anything special for this game. But it still makes me a little worried.

Anyway, that's where I stand on this game. ND is the superior team, but our knack for making these games close will probably mean another close game for the Irish on Saturday.

I expect us to win the game and wouldn't be shocked if this was the week when we finally buried one of these teams, but I fully expect to be sweating out the fourth quarter yet again. The Clausen-Locker duel should be in full effect with possible NFL contracts on the line.

ND 31 Washington 24

Bonus Picks:



USF is one of the most impressive teams I’ve watched so far this year. They absolutely manhandled FSU in Tallahassee. Maybe the 2nd best program in the state right now. Big showdown coming up when Cincy travels to Tampa.

NC State +1 at Wake Forest

I’ll be at this game, and I’m expecting a NC State road blowout. Wake stinks this year.

Alabama -16 at Kentucky

Alabama is hands down the best team in the country. Only other team in the same zip code is the Gators.


Georgia Tech (-4.5) over Mississippi State: The Jackets destroyed State last year in Atlanta and neither the coaching change nor the venue change will enable the Bulldogs to overcome their severe talent deficiency.

Ohio State (-17) over Indiana: Indiana is off to a nice little start, but they are not in the same planet as the Buckeyes. I will gladly lay the 17 points on the road in this one.


BC +3.5 over Florida State -- Very interesting ACC game here. Florida State is going to be looking for revenge. If BC wins this game, they might be a better team than we thought they'd be.

UCLA +5 against Stanford -- Two up and coming programs in the Pac 10. Winner of this game deserves to be ranked. I could see the Bruins winning straight up.

Arkansas -1.5 at Texas A&M -- Shhhhh. Texas A&M could be a bit of a sleeper. They've embraced the pass happy Big 12 style of football. Could be a shootout in College Station. I'll go with the SEC team though.

Duke +16.5 against Va Tech -- Just wanted to say that Ryan Williams is a fantasy SUPERSTAR. Love this guy.

Cincinnati -29 over Miami (Ohio) -- Does America realize we're 14 days away from Cincinnati and South Florida playing in front of a national tv audience in a game that has legitimate national championship implications?? What planet am I on?? I never though I'd see the day.

Last Week:

Jeremy: 3-3
Dan: 4-2
Matt: 2-4
Mike: 2-4
Doug: 4-2


Jeremy: 13-15
Dan: 16-12
Matt: 11-17
Mike: 10-18
Doug: 14-14

Lock of the Weeks:

Jeremy: 1-2
Dan: 2-2
Matt: 0-3
Mike: 1-2
Doug: 2-2

September 28, 2009

Around the Nation: Jimmy Clausen saves the day for Notre Dame. Is he going to the NFL though?? Plus, some thoughts on UCLA, Auburn, and Ohio State

More thoughts from another great day in the world of college football.

10) Jimmy Clausen is being rumored as the possible #1 pick in the NFL Draft next year?? WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?? You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw this mock draft listing Clausen as the #1 pick going to the Cleveland Browns next year (which would also be extremely ironic considering their current starting quarterback). I've occasionally pondered the possibility of Jimmy Clausen going pro after his junior year due to his age as a 22 year old junior, but I never really gave it serious consideration. I mean, four weeks ago, we were all sitting on pins and needles wondering if Jimmy Clausen was even an elite quarterback. Not only was I not sure that he was a future NFL pro, I wasn't completely convinced that he was the answer for Notre Dame. Remember all the concerns about his athleticism and his decision-making and his pocket presence??

Well, Clausen has obviously been spectacular through four games so far, but no part of me ever thought we would be losing him to the NFL after this year. I figured he would be back for his senior year for a multitude of reasons:

1) to soak in one more year of tutelage under Charlie Weis
2) the clutter of big name QBs earmarked for the 2010 Draft who were projected ahead of him going into the season (Bradford, McCoy, Tebow, Snead)
3) whole cast of skill players back at ND to make a run at a BCS bowl and a Heisman trophy

Strong reasons to come back for sure, and there are plenty of examples of quarterbacks who stayed all four years and have gone on to great NFL careers. Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are two great examples.

However, I think there are some other factors in play that will probably have an effect on Clausen's decision. As you look more closely, there are reasons to be concerned that he might leave.

1) The Matt Leinart/Sam Bradford Factor -- While coming back for your senior year can be a great thing to boost your draft stock if you aren't really well known, it's not always a great idea if you're already being looked at as a top 10 type pick after your junior year. If you're a top 10 pick as a junior, you're pretty much a known commodity. Coming back to school just gives scouts another year to pick apart your flaws. The more they know about you, the less they love you. Suddenly, you are getting overlooked and everyone is jumping on the next big thing.

Matt Leinart is the perfect example. If he had come out after the 2004 college football season, he would have been the #1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. By the end of 2004, everyone loved Matt Leinart. He was viewed as a winner, accurate passer, and intelligent player who was perfect for a pro style offense.

Take a look at who went #1 that year. Alex Smith!! Just a hilariously bad pick, but the 49ers needed a QB and rolled the dice. If Leinart had come out, he would have been a 49er that year.

Instead, Leinart comes back in 2005 and has another great year, but scouts had another year to look at him and started picking apart his flaws. Weak arm strength, lack of mobility, etc. Suddenly, he drops all the way to #10. I'm not sure he's ever really recovered from that.

Another one would be Brady Quinn. Even though I think he made the right decision to come back for his senior year, he might have actually had more value by leaving after his junior year. People hadn't really picked apart all of his flaws by the end of his junior year. The perception of Brady Quinn after his junior year was that he was a rising star, and he probably would have shot up the draft charts after setting weightlifting records at the combine. If there's one thing we know about scouts in any sport (NBA, MLB, NFL), it's that they love upside. The longer you stay in college, the less upside you are perceived to have.

Finally, there's Sam Bradford. If he came out last year, he's currently suiting up for the Detroit Lions after signing a $70 million contract as the #1 overall pick. His value was at an all time high last year coming off the Heisman and those eye-popping numbers. Heck, I've never been one to buy into system QBs like what you'd see at Oklahoma, but even I was buying into Bradford after watching him play relatively well against Florida's defense.

Now?? He's suddenly got a shaky shoulder, and all bets are basically off on Sam Bradford. What if he struggles coming back?? Are there going to be injury concerns now?? Are scouts going to be concerned about how good he is after seeing his backup put up huge numbers as well?? Is he still the consensus #1 pick?? Should he have come back even though OU had to replace all those linemen??

Compare Sam Bradford's situation to Mark Sanchez. Sanchez could not have timed his decision any better. He went when his value was peaking after a really good junior year, and suddenly he was a top ten pick after a good combine. I thought he was making a mistake by coming out, but it turns out he made a shrewd decision. Knowing your value is a huge thing when it comes to declaring for the NFL Draft.

I even see it a little bit with Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy. It almost feels like people are a little fatigued by those two guys and looking for someone new. I wouldn't be shocked if neither one of them got picked in the first round next year.

So what does that mean for Jimmy Clausen?? Clausen and his family are very well-educated on the business side of football. Clausen even has stated that going to ND was a "business decision," so you know he's going to be talking to everyone and studying all of this stuff. He's going to be looking at guys who have benefited from leaving and other guys who have benefited from staying (as well as guys who didn't benefit from staying). A lot of this probably depends on his value after his junior year. If he's a top 10 pick after his junior year, it probably makes sense for him to leave.

By my count, there are probably 4-5 guys who are serious competition for Clausen in the 2010 Draft: Bradford, Tebow, McCoy, Snead, Locker. Right now, the only guy I'd say Clausen is behind is Bradford, and even that one is debateable. Too early to tell on Clausen's value, but we'll probably find out a lot more in the next 2-3 weeks. If we beat Washington and USC, his value is going to skyrocket.

2) The offensive line -- Two tackles are gone next year, and that's part of the reason why Sam Bradford got hurt. Then again, we have all of our top skill guys back, so Clausen would have plenty of opportunities to put up huge numbers in his senior year.

3) The new NFL collective bargaining agreement -- Probably the most obscure but also a potential major factor in Clausen's decision. The NFL CBA is going to be coming up soon, and the buzz from the owners/Roger Goodell side is that we're going to see a serious push from the owners for a rookie salary cap in 2011 and beyond. I think the owners are feeling burned by all of the holdouts and huge contracts for guys who have never taken a snap before. Michael Crabtree has become the symbol of the movement for a rookie salary cap. The guy hasn't played a down, and he's asking for money that would make him the highest paid player on the team.

If I was the players' association, I would go all the way to the point of a strike to avoid a rookie salary cap. If they agree to a rookie salary cap, all it does is amount to a giant pay cut for the players. If all rookies are held to a pay scale, are NFL owners really going to start handing out huge deals to veteran players with all that extra money?? I don't see it. The New England/Pittsburgh model is in vogue where you shy away from big money veteran free agents and continue to recycle with young players. That's how you win in the NFL. So if NFL teams can get away with paying their rookies even less money, they're not going to splurge on veteran players. All it does for NFL teams is allow them to cut their payroll. It's a win-win for owners and a lose-lose for players.

Now, NFL owners and Goodell will try to spin this by saying that there will be more money for veteran "proven" players, and I bet a lot of players will buy into it. I personally think it would be a mistake for the players to agree to that type of a deal.

Anyway, back to Clausen. We have no idea if this rookie salary cap is going into place, but isn't there going to be a strong incentive for Clausen to go pro in 2010 if he fears that it might be the last chance for him to sign a big rookie deal?? If 2010 is an uncapped year and he can get a huge deal as a top 15 pick in 2010, that might be his best bet if a rookie salary cap is coming in 2011. If Clausen waits until 2011 and suddenly has to sign a 4 year, $12 million deal because of a rookie salary cap, that would be a financial disaster.

Of course, all of this is rampant speculation. Clausen is already really banged up, and still has a tough game coming up with USC. We have no idea what ND is going to do for the rest of the year, and Clausen's value will probably rise and fall throughout the season.

Ultimately, I think Clausen will be back for his senior season when he will be the undisputed top player in the 2011 Draft, but I am glad that Crist is at least getting some snaps this year. We might need him a lot sooner than we anticipated.

9) Great to see that one of my favorite websites is back in business!! Well, sort of. is now defunct, but has picked up where the old site left off. And it looks like it's the same guy who ran the Florida site. Man, that guy has it out for Ron Zook. I might buy a t-shirt this time around if they're selling them because Ron Zook will probably not be a head coach again to have a third "" site pop up at another school.

Guess we all should have seen this coming. I wish I had bought the rights to that site two years ago at the height of the Ron Zook lovefest at Illinois. Would have been a great "buy low" opportunity. I'd be selling tee shirts right now to every Illinois fan in the Midwest.

Illinois is a real bad football team. Real bad. We were sitting about ten feet behind their bench yesterday at the Ohio State-Illinois game, and they looked like they packed it in about midway through the first quarter. Ron Zook's seat has to be extremely warm at this point.

8) On behalf of the rest of the college football world, thank you to the Iowa Hawkeyes. You have done America a favor for a second straight year. Now, we just need you to lose yourselves. Don't look now, but Iowa has an opportunity to make a lengthy run as an unbeaten. Tough trips to Madison and Columbus, but they suddenly look like a possible 10 win team.

7) Time for a new segment on the blog! I'll call it the Handicappers Corner. This week, I'd like to take a look at a few overrated and underrated teams from a gambling perspective.


UCLA - Could be a bit of a sleeper team in the Pac 10. Rick Neuheisel seems to be turning them around. 3-0 against the spread and they are dogs again this week. Interesting game against Stanford. I'd strongly consider a moneyline bet on the Bruins if you are feeling frisky.

South Carolina - 4-0 against the spread so far, and I think maybe the most underrated team in the country. Their defense and athleticism are ridiculous. Honestly, if you put South Carolina in the Big 10, I think they could win the conference. They aren't the prettiest team out there, but watch the athleticism and speed of these SEC teams. It's a different level of play. Mark this down, South Carolina will end up in the Cotton Bowl or something like that, people will be talking them down because they play "ugly" ball, and then they'll roll some Big 12 team. Just like Ole Miss did last year.

Auburn -- Another team that is 4-0 against the spread. I didn't think much of them going into the year, but Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have them flying around and playing great football so far. That blowout win over Mississippi State is looking strong now since it appears that MSU is at least a little frisky this year under first year coach Dan Mullen. Auburn has a brutal schedule that might eventually catch up to them, but I've been impressed so far.


Southern Cal -- 1-3 against the spread right now and really not playing the kind of football that we have come to see out of USC under Pete Carroll. They are still getting old school USC betting lines that I'm not sure they deserve at the moment. 44 points against WSU was absurd. Their defense is still extremely stingy, but they are missing their mojo on offense. USC feels vulnerable this year. Their defense will still win them games, but we haven't seen one of those vintage USC offensive performances where they pour it on yet.

I have as much respect for Pete Carroll as anyone, but they are still a work in progress. That could change in the blink of an eye though, and USC is one of those teams that always peaks down the stretch. It'll be interesting to see how handicappers adjust to them. They might be one of those teams that suddenly becomes underrated if Vegas overcompenstate for their early struggles.

LSU -- 1-3 against the spread and looking every bit like the classic Les Miles team. Talented as all get out but capable of losing to anyone and always somehow pulling out wins in improbable fashion. LSU was 5-7 against the spread in 2007 but won the national championship that year. Last year, they were 2-9 against the spread. We'll find out a lot more about LSU this week against Georgia.


Notre Dame: 1-3 against the spread so far, and still giving 13.5 points against Washington. I must say that I'm shocked by that line. We were sizeable favorites over MSU and Purdue and needed everything in the bag to beat both those teams. I figured there would be a correction against Washington, but 13.5 is there for the taking.

6) Another new segment on the blog. Nobody loves a good bandwagon more than me, but only to a point. Once the media latches on to a bandwagon, it's probably a good idea to start heading in the other direction. Of course, once that bandwagon falls off the tracks, the media is already on to the next bandwagon. Well, I love nothing more than holding the media accountable, so let's break out the "Flat Tire on the Bandwagon" Award for bandwagons that were abandoned almost as quickly as they were formed. Last week's winner was the "Tate Forcier for Heisman" bandwagon. I'll nominate two winners for this week:

1) The "Miami for the national title game" bandwagon
2) The "Jevan Snead for Heisman" bandwagon

Jump! Not a lot of people driving either of those buses today. Jevan Snead, might want to think about coming back to school next year. Can't say I was too impressed with him. Pretty good mobility, but not nearly the playmaker that I had expected to see.

5) As for the Heisman race, it's hard to really get excited about anyone right now. I think I'm going to just stick with the career achievement award for now until someone definitively steps up from outside the big two and snatches away this award:

4) Tony Pike
3) Jimmy Clausen
2) Colt McCoy
1) Tim Tebow

4) Went to the Ohio State-Illinois game and figured I'd throw in some thoughts on the OSU gameday experience. Haven't been to a game in a couple years, so it was interesting to get back into the Horseshoe and see how much things have changed. All in all, a great day of football.

--Weather was brutal. The only other time I've been that wet at a game was ND-Michigan last year. Just a complete downpour for most of the game.
--Crowd was great though in spite of the weather. Extremely loud. Whatever they are doing to get the crowd noise up, it was working. Even though the Buckeyes were in complete control of that game, the crowd was good from start to finish.
--Ohio State's band is still good, but what's up with all the copycat stuff?? They're doing the Star Wars "kill" thing and the 1812 overture now?? It felt like I was at Notre Dame Stadium. It would be one thing if they had been doing those songs forever, but they're basically blatant ripoffs.

Plus, the new kickoff thing is that White Stripes "Seven Nation" song where the whole crowd sings in unison like the Penn State crowd. Another copycat move. Just seemed strange. There are thousands of songs out there and you pick the Penn State song?? Isn't there another song out there that the Buckeye band could play to get the crowd fired up??

Ohio State has a huge repertoire of different Buckeye songs for the band to play. Give me the fight song and other stuff that you'd typically hear the OSU band play. I don't understand why they are suddenly trying to copy other schools. I'm not going to an Ohio State game to hear ND and Penn State traditions. It devalues the experience. Either come up with your own song, or play the tradtioanl stuff.
--Ohio State's defensive line is awfully good. Completely dominated the game. There are 4-5 NFL players in their d-line rotation.
--Tressel Ball is boring, but it was a perfect game plan for the weather they had yesterday. Control the game with your defense and special teams, play field position, and keep knocking on the door until you break through. Illinois had no answer for Pryor's scrambling ability. If I was Tressel, I would be spending tons of time figuring out a way to get Pryor out in space.

3) I probably shouldn't say much about the ND game other than heaping a whole bunch of praise on Jimmy Clausen. With Jimmy Clausen, we're a top 30ish team. Without Jimmy Clausen, we're Purdue. Simple as that. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but that's where we are from my perspective. Clausen might not seriously contend for the Heisman Trophy, but he is as good as any player in the nation.

Oh and Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph?? They're pretty darn good too. For all the people who have been ripping Golden Tate the last couple weeks for "dropped passes" (even though the guy makes ten great plays for every bad one), you should probably just pour yourself a giant bowl of crow. He carried the team for a good chunk of the game, but that's what he does week in and week out. Get the ball in Golden Tate's hands, and good things happen. I'll take him on my team any day of the week.

Other unsung heroes:
-Darius Fleming-- Thought he played well
--ND run defense - I was at a bar for the entire game and couldn't see that well, but it seemed like our run defense played really well. Purdue only ran for 72 yards on Saturday. It seemed like Purdue had quite a few 2nd and short situations where we got stops
-Robbie Parris -- Man, Parris made a huge catch when we needed him to come through. If he doesn't get open or drops that ball, we probably lose that game
-Robert Hughes-- A Robert Hughes sighting was nice. He ran with some power yesterday. Encouraging sign. At this point, I think he's gotta be the backup running back.
--Wildcat -- Great day for the Wildcat yesterday. I thought we had some great looks to get the ball into the hands of Golden Tate. I'm officially coming around on the Wildcat. It has become a legitimate weapon in this offense, and we're probably going to need to use it to succeed without Michael Floyd. Weis deserves a ton of credit for getting more and more production out of the Wildcat each week.
--Nick Tausch -- Very solid performance out of him. I think we've got a good one there.

Things that didn't go so well:
-Pass Defense -- It really is sad that teams can just march down the field on us whenever they really need to. At some point, it would be nice to see this defense carry us to a win. Yesterday was a golden opportunity for that to happen. Unfortunately, the defense laid down yet again and needed yet another bailout from the offense.
--Maust -- Jesus, can we at least audition Turk for a series??
--Game management -- I've come to accept Charlie Weis for what he is at this point, and you just have to take the good with the bad. I think he's done a good job with this team so far, but I will say that he has some Marvin Lewis-esque tendencies when it comes to game management. When in doubt, Weis errs on the side of going all in. He's a gambler by nature. Sometimes I like it, but other times I'd just rather see him take the prudent approach and play it safe.

Two gambles that really backfired in my opinion:

1) Going for it on 4th and 1 instead of kicking a 38 yard field goal -- This move didn't really kill us, but to me it's just the message here. Why not kick the field goal and get on the board?? That is well within Tausch's range. It's almost as if Weis has zero patience. We fell behind 7-0 and he's already in a bit of a panic mode feeling like we need to get that touchdown right back. I love the aggressiveness, but what about managing the game?? Get the three points and give yourself a little momentum. Just let the game come to you a little bit. Could you imagine going to Vegas with Charlie Weis?? He'd lose the first couple hands in Blackjack and then throw all his chips in on the next hand to try to win it all back. Sometimes it can be brilliant, but patience isn't always a bad thing. It's a 60 minute game.

1) Going for it on 4th and 10 from their 40 -- In one respect, I can understand why he wanted to go for it here. If we get that first down, we might be on our way to six points and a score. But isn't a punt a better play here?? Why not punt that thing down inside the ten yard line and give your defense a chance?? Why hang your defense out to dry like that?? Going for it on 4th and 10 is such a low percentage play that Weis had to know that Purdue would be jacked up about stopping us and about having great field possession. What kind of message does that send to your defense??

That sequence just confirms to me is what I have known for years. Charlie Weis is not a believer in the field position game. He has no regard for the concept. He has an NFL mindset where field position is not that big of a deal because teams can move the ball quickly down the field from just about anywhere.

In Weis' mind, every offensive series that doesn't result in a score is a failure. That's not a bad attitude to have, but there can be "good" offensive series that don't result in a score. On that drive against Purdue, we moved the ball, ate up some clock, and could have punted it down there and given the defense a new life. If we have them pinned inside the ten, the defense might come out fired up and make a big play. Maybe we get a pick deep in their territory or something. By going for such a low percentage play and basically handing them the ball at the 40, it completely changed the game for Purdue.

I don't want Weis to suddenly turn into Jim Tressel Jr, but why not occasionally play the field position game?? Part of the reason why our defense stinks is that Weis hangs the defense out to dry so many times. He still coaches games from the perspective of an offensive coordinator instead of a head coach.

That's about all I really care to discuss on yesterday's game. It was a gutsy win considering all of the injures, and 3-1 is certainly better than 2-2.

I'd rather dive back into a big picture discussion though. It feels like there are two camps forming among the ND fanbase that have sort of divided the "Nation."

1) The "I don't care if we come back in the last minute to beat a I-AA team, survive and advance is all that matters in college football. The only thing that matters is coming out on top" camp


2) The "We just needed a last minute heroic effort from our superstar quarterback to beat one of the three worst teams in the Big Ten after barely getting by another mediocre Big Ten team the week before. I'll take the win, but these feel like empty victories. Are we even any good?" camp

Walking out of the stadium after the Michigan State game, I was firmly in camp one and didn't really understand all the anguish about the game. I felt the emotion in the stands, saw how much Sparty wanted that game (their players were literally lying on the ground in anguish after Cousins threw that pick), and knew that we had earned a tough win even if it didn't look impressive on paper. Michigan State is flaky, but they have talent and always bring their "A" game against ND. Coming out of that game with a win no matter what the score was a big step for the program.

But for this game, even though everything about the win says "camp one" considering all of the injuries, I gotta say that I'm leaning towards a "camp two" perspective after that game. I mean, my god. Purdue is a horrible football team. Their QB stinks, they couldn't run the ball on us, their defense stinks, and they have a new coach. Take a look at their schedule. Purdue is going to win like 3 games this year.

Even without Clausen and Armando Allen, we were so much more talented than them. We jumped all over them and then just started sleepwalking. I was at a bar for the game and sort of lost focus on the game for a stretch in the third quarter. Suddenly we were in a dogfight out of nowhere. It feels like we do this every week. We had an opportunity to put that game away by halftime and let them hang around.

Now, I know there's a ton of parity in college football right now. LSU almost got beat by Mississippi State, Penn State lost at home to Iowa, FSU lost at home, Georgia squeaked by at home, Michigan squeaked by at home. This season has already been insanely upset-laden, and I think it's safe to say that there are only three elite teams in college football this year. Florida, Texas, Alabama. If you don't show up to play, you can lose to ANYONE this year.

So in that sense, I think there's a lot of reason to feel good about any win against a team that shows up motivated to play you. Teams like Mississippi State and Purdue lay it all on the line to knock off a traditional power like LSU or ND. We usually get their best shot every year. Survive and advance is the story of the year in college football so far.

But I gotta say that my feeling after the game was one of relief rather than one of joy or elation. We were at an ND gamewatch event, and people were hugging and screaming after the Rudolph touchdown like we had won the BCS title game over Florida. I just couldn't bring myself to really celebrate or let loose after that play. I was relieved to get the win, but has it gotten to the point that I need to be hugging random strangers because we beat Purdue?? It's Purdue!! Now we're celebrating because we needed everything in the arsenal to get by Purdue and Michigan State in back to back weeks?? If we are barely beating the bottom half of the Big Ten, would we even be competitive with the best teams in the league?? And that's just the Big Ten. Imagine this team matching up with an SEC team in a bowl game.

This team has a lot of room to improve, but the feeling I get with this 2009 team is similar to some of the other "Wake up the Echoes" teams of the past decade or so. A pretty good team that seems to be playing with a lot of heart, but ultimately a very flawed team that will probably get exposed in the big games against good opponents. We've been through this before several times. The 2000 team that sort of won in smoke and mirrors fashion and got housed by Oregon State. The 2002 team that somehow started 8-0 with a series of close wins but got exposed down the stretch. The 2006 team that won several close games to get to 10 wins but got plowed by USC and LSU at the end of the year. When I look at this ND team, that's where I see us again this year. I certainly hope I'm wrong. We have an opportunity to beat USC this year, and that would be the type of win to show that this team is truly different. And even if we are a smoke and mirrors team, it's certainly better than what we've had in recent years.

While I don't know what to make of this team, I think Weis has done a good job this year. He has really had us ready to play offensively, and we are adding new wrinkles to the Wildcat every week. Considering all of the injuries we have had, he has done all that we can ask him to do to get us to 3-1.

The good news is that winning these games keeps the momentum going on the season. If we were 2-2 or (gasp) 1-3 right now, the team would be in the tank. At 3-1, the guys still can dream big things and feel like they have a lot to play for (double digit wins, BCS bowl, etc). Now we just have to keep getting better.

Seems like a lot of people are worried about Washington, but they got hammered by Stanford on Saturday. Of course, that means they'll probably be sky high for the Irish, and Jake Locker is going to be looking to make a statement on national tv. I expect to get their best shot in this game, but it's a very winnable game. If we can sneak by Washington and get to 4-1, that will be a good feeling going into the bye week before USC.

2) Who Dey! Who Dey! Who Dey think gonna beat them Bengals!! I'm not sure if the Bengals are any good, but to be sitting at 2-1 after that brutal loss to the Broncos is certainly not where I expected to be after three games. At least the Bengals are interesting and playing hard. That's about all I can ask for. Maybe they'll lose to the Browns next week and kill all of their momentum (that would not shock me at all), but this win over the Steelers was as good as it has been in a long time for Bengals fans. Probably the biggest home win in 15 years. I would describe the attitude of the fans as "detached anticipation" going into the game, but it ended with pure pandemonium. There are very few times when being a Reds or Bengals fan can bring joy to your life, but today was one of those days.

Credit to Marvin Lewis as well. He can be maddening at times (i.e. ordering a clock spike on first down inside the Steelers 20 even though we had two timeouts left, which almost came back to haunt us), but I think the defense is finally looking like the type of defense that he wanted. The Bengals have spent so many draft picks on front seven players in the last 3-4 years that it's good to see it finally paying off. It's not a championship defense by any means, but at least they can get off the field on occasion now. When the Bengals really needed to get a couple stops in the fourth quarter, they got them. Last year, Roethlisberger would have picked up first down after first down.

In the NFL (especially the AFC North), it comes down to three things: running the football, stopping the run, and good quarterback play. The Bengals had some shaky moments, but won all three of those phases in the second half. The only way to beat the Steelers is to match them physically up front. If you can't run the football or make a dent into their offensive line, you have no chance. The Bengals got beat up physically for the first quarter and a half, but made up for it big time in the second half.

As for the Steelers, they BADLY miss Troy Polamalu right now. With Polamalu, their defense is unbelievable. Without him, it's merely a good defense. I can think of a half dozen plays off the top of my head where Polamalu would have made a huge difference. There's no way Brian Leonard would have converted that fourth and ten if Polamalu was in the game. There's no way Cedric Benson takes a 30 yard run to the house if Polamalu was there. He would have caught Benson and shoved him out of bounds at around the 10 and forced the Bengals to punch it in from there (which we probably wouldn't have done). The Bengals worked the middle all day in the passing game. Polamalu would have taken that away. He's the biggest difference maker in football, and the Steelers really miss him.

Finally, the Brady Quinn saga. I mentioned this last week, but I think we just saw the end of Brady Quinn's time as the quarterback of the future on the Browns. Maybe he can resurrect his career somewhere else, but it's not working in Cleveland. If I had to take a guess, I'd say it won't work out for him anywhere to be perfectly honest. Quinn is not a good NFL quarterback. You have to be able to make plays down the field, and Quinn doesn't have that in his repertoire.

Derek Anderson is equally bad, but at least the Browns can run their full offense with him in there. I think I'd put him in there. He'll throw picks left and right, but at least Mangini will be able to implement his full offense to be able to evaluate some of the younger receivers on the roster. With Brady Quinn, they can't run the ball at all because there's no threat of a downfield passing game, and the rookie receivers can't get experience running longer routes because Brady can't make those throws. The entire offense with Brady Quinn is a three step drop and dump off pass. That's not going to cut it.

The Browns are almost undoubtedly going to take a quarterback with their top five pick next year. They need to get their guy to build around for the future. Perhaps it will be another Notre Dame quarterback?? It certainly will be interesting.

Really enjoying the start of the NFL season. I've already watched more NFL football in three weeks than I did all of last year.

1) The Week Four WEISND Power Poll:

3) Texas
2) Florida
1) Alabama

Right now, I don't see any reason to rank anyone beyond those three teams. Bama, Florida, and Texas have distanced themselves from the rest of the college football world, and I'm about 99% sure that one of those three schools will be the national champion at the end of the year. Of course, this has been a wacky college football season, so anything is possible. For now, I'm listing those three and that's all. Unless someone like LSU or Oklahoma or USC jumps back up and starts making noise again, I'm content to just focus on those three teams for now.

Personally, I think Bama and Florida are the only two truly superior teams, and I think either of them would roll by Texas in a championship game. If I had to choose between Florida and Bama, I still think I'm going with Bama. Losing Dont'a Hightower was a HUGE loss for them (can't you just picture Verne Lundquist pronouncing the name Dont'a Hightower? That just makes me giddy thinking about it.), but they are a great team that looks like they are only going to get better as the year goes along. They have are loaded with seniors in their front seven, and the young offense is improving every week. When you look at how many young skill players are playing prominent roles for the Tide (Jones, Ingram, Richardson, etc), their future is extremely bright.

September 23, 2009

WEISND Roundtable Week Four Picks: Notre Dame-Purdue, Ole Miss-South Carolina, Miami-Virginia Tech, Cal-Oregon, Clemson-TCU, and more

Kind of a light week in college football this week before we gear up for a monster week on October 3. Just to wet your whistle a little bit for next week, here are some of the games on tap:


WOW. Five huge games there that either have huge implications on major programs (ND, Michigan) or potential national championship implications (Miami, Cal, USC, OU, LSU). It doesn't get much better than the month of October for college football.

Until then, let's take a look at the big games of week four.

Thursday September 24, 2009

Mississippi -3.5 at South Carolina (ESPN 7:30pm)

Jeremy: South Carolina (+3.5)

Ole Miss has run through the typical slate of tomato cans thus far while the Gamecocks have already played a few tough games. This is exactly the type of game that Houston Nutt has no business losing, but will anyway. Jevan Snead is a Heisman candidate? I guess all you have to do is start for an SEC school and have a big upset win over Florida. Carolina ices this one with a late FG.

South Carolina 31 Ole Miss 24

Dan: Mississippi -3.5

3.5 points is an odd line for the number 4 team in the country playing an unranked team. It just exemplifies how odd the Top 25 is in college football this year. Outside of Florida, Alabama, Texas, and potentially Oklahoma when Bradford is healthy, does anyone know what to expect out of any of these teams? I had been confident in USC, but then last week showed that even they aren’t to be trusted. This game presents an interesting match-up of under-matched O-Lines against strong D-Lines. I expect Snead to handle the pressure better than Garcia and for Ole Miss to pull away late.

Ole Miss 31 South Carolina 24

Matt: South Carolina +3.5

I don’t really pay attention to rankings this early in the season. I check out who is #1, where ND is and maybe a few upcoming opponents, but other than that, I don’t really get into it until October rolls around. So you can imagine my surprise when I looked this week and saw Ole Miss at #4. What??!! Are you kidding me? I mean, they haven’t played anyone! I think they straight up lose this game and go on to a Cotton / Citrus Bowl type year. Nice team, but let’s not go crazy here.

South Carolina 24 Ole Miss 21

Mike: South Carolina (+3.5):

Ole Miss, like Oklahoma State, is a program that must deal with unusually lofty expectations this year. Although I think that the Rebels are a sound football team, both offensively and defensively, they draw a very difficult assignment for their first true test of the season. Despite a tough loss at Georgia, the Gamecocks are athletic on defense, improved on offense and, unlike Ole Miss, battle-tested. Throw in a jacked-up Williams-Brice Stadium crowd that will be ready to watch their home team defeat a top 10 team and you have a recipe for disaster for the visiting Rebs.

South Carolina 26 Mississippi 21

Doug: South Carolina +3.5

First real big test for Ole Miss here. I can't believe I'm staring at the AP Top 25 and seeing Ole Miss at #4 right now. Fourth in the country!! Houston Nutt is doing a great job, but credit to Ed Orgeron for recruiting some serious talent to Oxford. Then again, they haven't played anyone yet. College football polls get more and more ridiculous every year. Why not just wait until October 1 to unveil the polls??

It's a Thursday night though, and I'm saying the Ole Ball Coach has one last magic trick in him. South Carolina is no joke this year. They've already played two really tough games to start the year and might be a little more battled tested than Ole Miss. South Carolina has the right mix to be an 8 win type team this year.

I see South Carolina pulling the shocker and winning this game. They'll be ranked on Monday if that happens. Deservedly so.

South Carolina 24 Ole Miss 21

Saturday September 26, 2009

North Carolina +2.5 at Georgia Tech (Raycom Sports 12pm)

Jeremy: Georgia Tech (-2.5)

Couple of head-scratching teams here. Last week’s game against Miami must have been a bit nerve-wracking for the Tech faithful. A physically superior team dominated Paul Johnson’s option attack and showed that when forced to rely on the pass, the Yellow Jackets are going to struggle mightily. Carolina doesn’t have the team speed of Miami on defense, but I expect Butch Davis will have a few wrinkles up his sleeve to slow down the option. But the Tar Heels haven’t looked terribly impressive yet this year. Their effort against UCONN was surprisingly poor – lots of penalties, mental mistakes, etc. I don’t think they’re quite ready to take the leap into the elite of the ACC.

GT 27 UNC 21

Dan: GT -2.5

Despite the fact that Georgia Tech looked lost against against the Canes on Thursday, I’m not ready to hop off the Paul Johnson bandwagon quite yet. Georgia Tech is still averaging over 240 yards a game on the ground. However, UNC is holding opponents to about 50 yards per game rushing. But the Tarheels haven’t played a potent attack like GT. If Dwyer is able to play at 100%, and he claims he is, look for GT to control the tempo and avenge the prior year loss at UNC.

GT 31 UNC 27

Matt: UNC +2.5

Have opposing defenses started to catch up with Paul Johnson’s offense? That game against Miami was probably more a testament to that athletes that are back on the U than GT’s ineffectiveness, but I will say this. If you can slow down their rushing, get a lead, and make them play from behind, Josh Nesbitt has not proven to be an effective passer yet. The last 6 quarters have been ugly. Meanwhile, UNC has been a total mystery. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and predict a mini-upset in Atlanta.

UNC 27 GT 20

Mike: Georgia Tech (-2.5):

Georgia Tech has been disappointing on both sides of the ball this year, but I have not abandoned the Paul Johnson bandwagon just yet. Johnson is just too accomplished to allow for the Jackets’ offensive malaise to continue, even against a tough Tar Heels defense and irrespective of whether Jonathan Dwyer is able to play. Likewise, a visit from a North Carolina offense that is bereft of explosive skill position players will be the elixir for the struggling Georgia Tech secondary. In an important early season tilt, the Yellow Jackets will survive and remain in the ACC Coastal Division race.

Georgia Tech 24 North Carolina 21

Doug: Georgia Tech -2.5 - LOCK OF THE WEEK

Big game to create a little separation in the ACC logjam. Georgia Tech is a better team than we saw against Miami. Their defense is a little shaky, but it's a home game against a North Carolina team that might be a little overrated. I think North Carolina might have been better last year.

One question I have about Georgia Tech though. How does Paul Johnson recruit players for that offense?? Does he just load up on tailbacks?? Seems like most high school recruits would shy away from that offense because they'd be afraid that it wouldn't prepare them for an NFL style offense. If you were a linemen, you wouldn't really even learn how to pass block. Wouldn't that hurt your draft stock?? I know Georgia Tech is a good academic school, and most players just want to go to college to win and don't really think about an NFL future. But I'm curious to see if their recruiting tails off at all under Paul Johnson.

By the way, speaking of North Carolina, why is Michael Jordan getting so much heat for his Hall of Fame speech?? I watched it on Youtube, and it wasn't that bad. If anything, it was hilarious to see MJ up there still wearing a hoop earring and trying to pronounce "championship" and "trials and tribulations." Nobody turns "championship" into a three syllable word like Michael Jordan. So he took a couple friendly jabs at Byron Russell?? People acted like Jordan still has this chip on his shoulder, but I didn't get that vibe at all. He was really just telling the audience what inspired him. I thought the whole thing was harmless.

Georgia Tech 27 UNC 10

Miami (FL) -2 at Virginia Tech (ABC 3:30pm)

Jeremy: Miami (+2) – LOCK OF THE WEEK

The “I Believe in Randy Shannon” 2009 Tour rolls on this week. Didn’t watch much of their game against the Huskers last week, but it sounds like the Hokies were not impressive at all. The Canes will force Tech to score this week, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to keep up with Jacory and the boys.

By the way, shouldn’t the rest of the college football world be downright terrified that Miami appears to be back? Yikes.

Miami 31 Va Tech 17

Dan: VT +2

Three weeks ago, no one would have predicted VT to be home dogs to Miami come week three. However, after two very impressive performances by the Canes, and some mediocre showings by Beamer’s bunch, here we are. I envision Beamer coming up with some creative schemes to slow down Jacory Harris. The sophomore has been playing out of his mind in the first two games, and I think he has a little regression in him. Look for a couple mistakes from him that help VT pull out a closeone.

VT 21 Miami 20

Matt: Miami -2

Game of the weekend! In the ACC! Who would have thought it. Virginia Tech needed a miracle drive to beat Nebraska at home last weekend. Miami has a better defense than Nebraska. I don’t think Ty Taylor gets anything going through the air, and I expect Miami to crowd the box to shut down true freshman Ryan Williams and put the game in Taylor’s hands. I’m calling for a low scoring game, similar to last week in Blacksburg.

Miami 17 VT 10

Mike: Miami (-2)

Virginia Tech received an absolute gift from the referees in its narrow escape against Nebraska last week, but the Hokies are struggling badly on offense. While Bud Foster’s defense should create more of a hurdle for Jacory Harris than the Canes’ first two foes, I expect Miami to make enough plays in the passing game to force Virginia Tech’s offense to put up some points this week. Look for another big road win for the “U,” which will set the stage for a huge showdown against Oklahoma next week in Miami.

Miami 24 Virginia Tech 17

Doug: Virginia Tech +2

I have no idea what to make of this game. On paper, I really see no reason why I shouldn't take Miami. They're playing great ball, they look like the better team than Va. Tech, and Virginia Tech is muddling through and winning ugly like they always do. I really should just pick the Canes and root for them since I'd like to see them have a great year. If they win this game, I think they should be #1 in the country on Monday morning.

But this just feels like one of those games where everyone has been telling Miami all week how great they are, and then they lay an egg at Virginia Tech. It's Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Do they ever lose these types of games at home?? Frank Beamer wins ballgames, especially in the ACC. He's been doing it for 20 years, and I see no reason why I should suddenly bet against him. Unless Miami is truly an elite team this year (which let's be honest has not been settled yet), they probably aren't walking out of Lane Stadium with a win. Virginia Tech just somehow finds a way. It's in the culture there.

Everyone is on the Miami bandwagon right now. I think there's good reason to do so, but that typically makes me cautious. When everyone is going one way, it's not a bad idea to go the other way. Teams are never as good as they looked the week before, and also never as bad. VT struggled against Nebraska, but they may show up and look great against The U.

This is a tough game for me to call. Miami has a higher ceiling than Virginia Tech, but VT probably still has a higher floor. As long as the Hokies do what they always do (run the ball, tough D, good special teams), you have to play a spectacular game to beat them. I know they almost lost to Nebraska, but that's what we always say about Virginia Tech. They almost lose. Those still count as wins though in the record books.

Give me the Hokes in a straight up win. I still think Miami has a very bright future though.

Virginia Tech 17 Miami 14

TCU +3 at Clemson (ESPN360 3:30pm)

Jeremy: Clemson (-3)

If this game were on the road, I would expect the Tigers to have a bit more trouble. But CJ Spiller and Co. will be too much for Gary Patterson’s boys in Death Valley. Another BCS pretender bites the dust.

Clemson 24 TCU 13

Dan: TCU +3

After last weekend’s poor showing by the Mid-Majors, this has bounce back game written all over it.TCU already shellacked one ACC team on the road. Expect their stifling defense to cause Clemson difficulties, while Joseph Turner continues to have success on the ground.

TCU 21 Clemson 17

Matt: Clemson -3

A lot of people I know are nervous about this game for Clemson, but I think last week proved a few things about these mid majors. Of course they’re capable of the upsets, as countless of them have proven in the past. But if a Clemson or FSU or Oregon shows up ready to play, the talent advantage is still overwhelming. I know TCU has a good defense, and I don’t feel great backing Kyle Parker in a big game, but I just don’t think TCU has the speed to keep up with CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford. You know that Dabo has been preparing for this game after all the whining coming out of the Mountain West recently, so I think they come out ready to play and win big.

Clemson 31 TCU 17

Mike: Clemson (-3) - Lock of the Week:

Although it is early in the season, I assume that TCU will have a strong defense given Gary Patterson’s track record. Nonetheless, Clemson appears to have an equally formidable defense and the Tigers should be more explosive on offense than the Horned Frogs. The combination of an overall talent edge and the Death Valley crowd will be sufficient to allow Clemson to win somewhat comfortably, thereby exiling another team with BCS-busting ambitions to its rightful place on the Isle of Misfit Toys.

Clemson 27 TCU 14

Doug: Clemson -3

Maybe I should watch what I say since the TCU fans will probably come over here again and burn us up, but I like Clemson in this game. Home game for the Tigers against a mid-major with less talent. TCU has a good defense, but is there anyone in the Mountain West with Clemson's talent?? As long as Clemson shows up ready to play, I like them to win this one.

I'm rooting for a loss out of Boise and TCU to get them out of the BCS conversation. Heavyweights only please.

Clemson 24 TCU 14

Cal -7 at Oregon (ABC 3:30pm)

Jeremy: Cal (-7)

Jahvid Best is a stud. Chip Kelly appears to be a dud. Must say I’m a bit surprised – of all the “coaches-in-waiting” I figured he would be able to make a fairly seamless transition at Oregon. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Do the Duck faithful start preparing the pitchforks if he catches a beating in this game? Cal rolls, even on the road.

Cal 38 Oregon 23

Dan: Cal -7 -- LOCK OF THE WEEK

Autzen Stadium may be one of the most intimidating places in the country to play, but Jahvid Best is legit. Combine his incredible play with the steady performance of Cal QB Kevin Riley, and this could be the year Cal unseats USC atop the Pac-10. On top of that Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli has struggled so far this year, throwing no TDs and 2 interceptions. While Oregon should benefit from having faced some decent competition so far (Boise, Purdue, and Utah), the Cal offense will be too much.

Cal 34 Oregon 17

Matt: Cal -7

I actually watched a good bit of Cal’s game at Minnesota last week and they were really impressive. Jahvid Best is the real deal. He went for 5 td’s last week, and honestly I wouldn’t be shocked if he does it again. I can’t get that image of Oregon’s incompetence against Boise out of my head.

Totally unrelated side note – has become practically unbearable. I’m sitting here listening to music trying to look up team records and schedules and I can’t click anywhere on that site without some sort of advertisement playing or stupid highlight package going on. There are 4 things that keep me coming back – Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Beano Cook chats and Bill Simmons. Wading through the clutter to find a Gammons notes column or Beano dropping a World War II reference almost makes it worth it.

Cal 38 Oregon 20

Mike: California (-7)

Oregon looked better last week than its first two games, but they still appear to have some warts, particularly in the passing game. This week, the Ducks will have their hands full with the explosive Jahvid Best and Cal’s talented defensive front seven. For some reason, Best inexplicably spent a good portion of the second half on the bench against Minnesota in favor of Shane Vereen, although I presume that Best will be ready to carry the full load against Oregon. I give the Ducks a puncher’s chance (get it?) since the game is at Autzen Stadium, but I expect Cal to score another big road win to set the stage for a home showdown with USC next week.

California 38 Oregon 28

Doug: Cal -7

Big opportunity for the Cal football program this year. Probably the best chance they will ever get to break up the USC dynasty and play in the Rose Bowl. They have a mature team with the Trojans at home this year, and Jahvid Best is the Adrian Peterson of college fantasy football. If they can't get it done this year, I don't see them ever really getting past USC for the conference title. Cal has been the second best program in the Pac 10 for years, but I don't think they've ever played in a BCS bowl game. Gotta make it happen this year.

Oregon is struggling this year, but my only concern for the Bears in this game is that they'll be looking ahead to the USC game on October 3. Those "look ahead" games always seem to happen, especially when the team is on the road. Going to Oregon is no easy bargain.

My general rule on handicapping is to take home dogs all day long, but the Pac 10 never seems to play out that way. My theory is that Pac 10 stadiums and crowds are sort of lackluster compared to the rest of the college football world, so you're probably better off just taking the team you think will win the game. There are home upsets of course, but there are usually factors beyond homefield advantage that play a role. In the Big Ten or the SEC, home field really makes a bigger difference in performance. In the Pac 10, I feel like I've been burned several times picking intriguing home dogs and then they get blown by a superior team.

Cal is motivated and hungry, they have a veteran coach, and Oregon seems a little disjointed at this point. I think I'll go with the Bears to win and cover.

Cal 31 Oregon 17

Notre Dame -8.5 at Purdue (ESPN 8pm)

Jeremy: Notre Dame

Weis has handled the Boilermakers with quite a bit of ease during his tenure. Even the 2007 team managed to give Purdue a scare on the road. I must say I’m a bit nervous about Clausen’s foot injury, particularly since its his plant foot, but I really think that even if Dayne Crist gets the majority of snaps in this game, the Irish should win handily.

Purdue has been running the ball fairly well so far this year, so it will be interesting to see how the Irish fare against a team that tries to beat them on the ground. Look for Manti Te’o to see more action on Saturday.

Who’s going to step up for Michael Floyd? Robby Parris is a fairly well-known quantity, and Duval Kamara doesn’t seem able to replicate his freshman season, so it appears the brunt of the production will have to come from someone among Shaq Evans, Deion Walker and John Goodman. Scary thought.

But behind some strong running from Allen, Gray and Hughes, the Irish can put off their passing worries for another day as they win easily in West Lafayette.

ND 38 Purdue 21

Dan: Notre Dame (no spread)

This game, for some reason, really feels a lot like the 2005 Purdue game to me. Obviously people are more confident in the 2009 offense. But it’s a night game, in West Lafayette, with a high powered offense and a questionable defense against a Purdue team that just isn’t very good. I’ll let Doug ponder on all the specific details, but expect ND to run away with this one.

Matt: Notre Dame

Would I be surprised if Notre Dame won this game 42-10? No. Would I be surprised if ND won 42-40? No. Would I be surprised if ND lost 42-40? Nope. I guess that means in my mind the only constant with this team is that the offense will show up. And now even that might be in question with Floyd out and Clausen and Allen hobbled. Let’s not kid anyone though. ND should be able to win this game if Dayne Crist and Jonas Gray had to start. Purdue has MAC talent leftover from the end of the Tiller era. I know they have been a potent offense so far, but they lost to freaking Northern Illinois. At home! There are no excuses here for both a big win and marked improvement on defense.

Here are a few things I’ll be looking for:

1) Who steps up to replace Floyd. At this point, we know what Kamara, Goodman and Parris are. 3rd or 4th receivers at best. I’m more interested to see what Walker and Evans can offer. I think all Irish fans are hoping that Shaq rises up and snatches this opportunity. We need another consistent threat to make sure Golden doesn’t start getting doubled.

2) The D-line. I know both Doug and Jeremy have been asking for Ethan Johnson to be moved back outside, and I couldn’t agree more. His talent is being wasted inside. I know the coaches philosophy is to get the best players on the field, but if he’s playing out of position what good is it doing. It’s not like KLM and Kerry Neal have been tearing it up.

3) Manti. Time to get him in the starting lineup. You watch a team like Miami or FSU and there are freshman all over the two deep making plays. Manti needs to get on the field. He might be a little raw, but I think Toryan needs to become a reserve. The LB’s have been invisible since the Nevada game.

4) Harry Smith. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the only time I hear Smith’s name is if he is getting burned in pass coverage or getting a personal foul. Time to start giving McCarthy some help back there, or else see what Ray Herring or Zeke Motta have.

5) CB’s. This was supposed to be a strength and they’ve been getting torched. I suspect it’s a combo of lack of a pass rush and soft coverage by design, but gotta get it turned around. Blanton and Walls have not been impact players, and that is putting it nicely.

ND 37 Purdue 30

Mike: Purdue (outright)

Thanks to Kirk Cousins’s late-game brain lock, Notre Dame barely avoided the ignominy of a seventh consecutive loss to Michigan State, which would have been the deathblow to Charlie Weis’s tenure under the Golden Dome. Weis must stave off another potential job upset as the Irish travel to Ross-Ade Stadium to take on a Purdue team that suffered an embarrassing home loss to Northern Illinois last week. Notre Dame, as usual, is far more talented than the Boilermakers, but questions abound for the visiting Irish. As seen last year, Notre Dame’s offensive production dropped precipitously in the absence of Michael Floyd, who is likely out for the season, so others must emerge to fill the void. Unfortunately, Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen are also banged up, thus complicating the task for Weis’s offense. On defense, the Irish have been terrible, which suggests that they will have problems handling Purdue’s elusive tailback, Ralph Bolden. In front of a frenzied evening crowd in West Lafayette, the cardiac Irish will, yet again, allow an inferior foe to hang around. Unlike last week, however, Notre Dame will fall short this time, so stay tuned for my discussions of potential replacement coaches.

Purdue 30 Notre Dame 28

Doug: Notre Dame

Before getting into the ND-Purdue game, I wanted to comment on all of the negativity that we've seen this week surrounding the ND football program. I gotta say that I am shocked at how down people are on this program. At the moment, I feel the complete opposite way. I actually feel BETTER about Charlie Weis and the direction of the program than I've felt in 2-3 years. Just when everyone seems to be ready to throw in the towel, I find myself seeing great signs of progress and a team that may even be on the verge of a breakthrough.

Up until this season, I was concerned that the performances of the last couple years were what we would come to expect from a Charlie Weis team. Lots of grab-bagging, smoke and mirrors, jump balls every other play, no intensity, talking about running it and then not running it at all, finesse attitude, no mental toughness, bad line play. That's the type of stuff we saw in 2007 and 2008. A team in complete disarray. Most of the time, we couldn't sustain anything for more than a series. And even when things were going well, we'd fold as soon as anything went wrong. Just bad football teams.

But now?? I see a team that actually looks well-coached in a lot of areas. Look at how crisp this offense looks. Look at what we have been doing on our opening drives this year. Just marching it down the field. Isn't that coaching from Charlie Weis?? Look at how well the offensive line is playing. Isn't that coaching from Frank Verducci?? Look at how well Armando Allen is playing. Shouldn't Coach Alford be getting credit for that development?? I think this offense is better than the offense we had in 2005. It's a balanced attack that can quick strike down the field but also can pick up short yardage on the ground when we need it. I don't even worry about running the football anymore. We can move it on the ground. A year ago, we were coming off a 20 yard rushing output against Sparty where we couldn't do anything on the ground.

Shouldn't Charlie Weis get a lot of credit for how good this offense has looked?? He has eradicated all of the inconsistencies of the 2007 and 2008 teams (and even 2006 for that matter) and might finally be coming into his own as an offensive coach for a college team. If the line keeps playing this well, this offense will put up points on every team left on this schedule.

And yet now people are "done" with Weis?? Huh?? You've supported the guy for all these years, and now you're done with him when this team actually looks like it's on the verge of breaking out?? Because we lost a heartbreaker at Michigan?? The team came right back the following week and made it happen against a Michigan State team that was jacked up out of its mind and playing for a coach who demands a lot out of them in Mark Dantonio. Michigan State might go on to win 7 games, but they played that ND game like it was the Super Bowl. And yet we got it done and came back with a great drive to take the lead (note: people only seem to be focusing on MSU's blown last drive, but we did some great things offensively to get the lead in the first place).

Sure, the defense looks shaky, and I'll get to that below. But there is a level of toughness and maturity to this team that we haven't seen in a few years. This offense is determined to score on every single drive, and not many teams are going to be able to keep up with that.

The perception from our own fanbase is that the Weis era is nearly over, but the perception nationally from the Ivan Maisels and Pat Fordes and Kirk Herbstreits of the world is that the arrow is pointing up on this program. People are watching our team and seeing a dynamic offense that looks awfully tough to stop. If the defense can mature a little bit and stiffen up, look out.

If you've thrown in the towel on Charlie Weis, fine. You may even turn out to be right if this team loses to Purdue or fades late in the year. There's nothing I can say that will probably persuade you back into the tent, but I do think this team's play on the field might take care of that for me. We are a lot better than people are giving us credit for, and I have a feeling that this team might prove that over the next few weeks. I think this team might end up being Charlie Weis' best team at Notre Dame.

ND has a good team this year. Seriously. It's time to get off the ledge and start buying in.

On to some keys to the game:

1) Talent: As is always the case in the ND-Purdue game, the biggest factor in this game is talent. This is what this game comes down to every year. It's freaking Purdue!! I think this line should be like ND -13.5. Purdue is probably about the 8th/9th most talented program in the Big Ten, and even that spot is borderline generous for them. Purdue steadily has brought in recruiting classes ranked in the 50s and 60s on over the last 4-5 years. People like to compare them to Michigan State, but they aren't anywhere near as talented as Michigan State (who usually is getting top 30ish type classes). Purdue doesn't stop the run, and they can't stop the pass. Their line play on both sides of the ball is at the mid-major level. They have a couple decent skill players and Elliot seems like he might be decent, but everything about Purdue is MAC level. Heck, they might not even be MAC level considering that they lost to Northern Illinois at home.

The 2007 ND team was probably the worst ND team in school history, and even that team was moving the ball against Purdue fairly easily throughout the game. Purdue is like Nevada or Hawaii or....well...Purdue. We whipped Purdue last year, and we were mediocre. They are only marginally better this year (if at all), and we are demonstrably better.

Every year, I read stuff on the web from fans who have worked themselves into a tizzy about Purdue and are worried that we'll lose to them, and then the game starts and we shove them all over the field and dominate the game. By the end of the first quarter, all doubt has usually been erased as to who the better team is. It happened in 2005, 2006, and 2008. We blow their doors off in the first quarter, and cruise from there.

Charlie Weis has proven one thing definitively in his time at ND. He OWNS Purdue. When we go up against teams with smallish lines that aren't overly quick or physical, we dominate those teams. The Nevadas and Purdues of the world have no answers for our offense because they can't get to the quarterback and can't cover our receivers.

There is no one on Purdue's roster who can hang around with Golden Tate or put any pressure on Jimmy Clausen. The last time there was this big of a disparity between ND and Purdue was in 2005, and we all remember what happened in that game. It's 49-21, sweetheart.

2) ND Defense: The only way I could see this game even being remotely competitive is if our defense completely lays down against Purdue. Purdue will move the football against us, but we just have to clamp down in the red zone and keep them out of the end zone. If we can hold them to three points or get some turnovers in the early stages of the game, we can blow them out of the building.

I know there are a lot of concerns about the Irish defense this year, and most of them are well-founded complaints. The only thing I would encourage people to do is to at least consider the possibility that this defense will improve over the course of the season. It might not become a top unit, but we really just need it to be serviceable to win against this schedule.

In some ways, I think our defense is where our offense was a year ago. There is talent, but it's young and inconsistent. Other than Ian Williams and Brian Smith, every guy in the front seven is basically in his first year starting/playing a new position. KLM hasn't played a down until this year, Te'o is new, Fleming is new, Ethan Johnson is in a new position, and Neal is playing 4-3 end this year. Right now, the front seven is still unsettled. Some of these guys might not even be starting or playing the same position later in the year.

Take a look at what is going on at Georgia right now with their defense. Georgia has had good defenses in the Mark Richt era, but they're really struggling right now. Does that mean Richt and his DC are suddenly bad coaches?? No, sometimes it takes awhile for things to jell. I'd be willing to bet that Georgia's defense will get much better as the season goes along.

Tenuta has a good track record. Perhaps he will turn out to be a bust, but maybe he's still sorting through his personnel and looking for the right combinations. The good news for him is that he has a great offense to bail him out while he figures things out.

I'm putting down an "Incomplete" grade on the ND defense through the first quarter of the season. That may end up being a D or an F if the defense costs us another game or two in the next month, but it's too early to write this defense off.

3) The psychological game -- From what I'm reading, this game will be a "Blackout" game for Purdue. It's a night game in West Lafayette, and we will probably get their best shot. One thing I've noticed through the years about night games at Purdue is that they usually come out flying all over the place in the early going. Once that initial surge is over, they usually have nothing left and good teams pounce all over them.

ND has to come out like gang busters in this game and look to put it away early. We have the talent to bury Purdue. If we sleepwalk through the first two quarters, we'll have a game on our hands and the crowd will keep them in the game. If we blow this game wide open in the first quarter, they'll deflate and the crowd will pack it in.

The key stretch in this game will be from late in the first quarter until halftime. Purdue will give us their best shot early, and it may take a bit for ND to settle in. The key for ND will be to regroup and impose our will on them.

4) Moustaches - It's Purdue week, so someone's gotta bust out the page of Purdue coaching moustaches. It still kills me every time, especially the strengths and weaknesses. Where else can you read that about a "hard-working, God-fearing" moustache or a moustache that causes dogs to bark viciously. The Private Eye!! Forgot about that one.

Purdue is a BAD football team. ND is a good football team. Ultimately, that is what this game boils down to. I think this game will be very similar to the 2005 ND-Purdue game. We jump all over them, put on an offensive fireworks show, Armando Allen runs for 175+ yards (if not more), and the defense does just enough to slow them down and keep them out of the end zone more often than not.

I might even go on record and say that Armando Allen ends up with 250 all-purpose yards in this game. 2-3 big screens and 175+ yards on the ground for #5 gives him the MVP award against the Boilmakers.

ND 45 Purdue 24

Bonus Picks:

Mike: Iowa (+9.5)

This matchup always reminds me of one of my all-time favorite games: Iowa’s 6-4 victory over Penn State in Happy Valley in 2004. There should be some more firepower this year, but Penn State has been unimpressive against its home “gauntlet” of Akron, Syracuse and Temple. Despite the loss of Jewel Hampton, Iowa seems to have discovered a credible rushing offense with Adam Robinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher. In addition, Iowa’s solid defense should be able to slow the Spread HD attack of Penn State, thereby allowing the Hawkeyes to score the outright upset.

Iowa 17 Penn State 14


Missouri -7.5 at Nevada -- Nevada could be 0-3 after the game. I never bought into that Nevada hype from Swarbrick and others. They are a mid-major for a reason. I have no problem with tuning up with a Nevada type team every year, but a team like Nevada should never be considered a marquee opponent on the schedule.

Fresno State +15 at Cincinnati - Bearcat fans, you are a JOKE. How was this game not sold out weeks ago?? You can sell out the freaking Bengals (who have treated you like garbage for 20 years) and not a top 15 UC team?? It's a 35,000 seat stadium with very reasonable ticket prices. And you wonder why Brian Kelly is going to leave as soon as he gets a better job.

BC +2.5 over Wake -- BC might have the worst offense in the nation. Curious to see what they do leading up to the ND game. They always bring their best against ND, but it sounds like BC is a bad football team this year.

NC State -1 over Pitt -- If Pitt wins this game, they probably should be ranked on Monday. Not sure what to make of Pitt. They are probably the toughest game we have left other than USC, but it's still Pitt with Dave Wannstedt. I think the Wolfpack will win that game though.

Arkansas +15.5 at Alabama - Wow, who is actually taking Alabama -15.5 here?? That line is absurdly high.

Kentucky +22.5 against Florida - Man, why am I not driving down to Lexington this week to go to this game?? Would love to watch Tim Tebow in person one time.

Stanford -7 over Washington -- Bold prediction here, but I think the "Washington is back" bandwagon deflates significantly this week.

Iowa +10 at Penn State -- Let's go Hawkeyes! Do America a favor again this year and knock out the Nittany Lions.

Last Week:

Jeremy: 5-3
Dan: 6-2
Matt: 4-4
Mike: 1-7
Doug: 6-2


Jeremy: 10-12
Dan: 12-10
Matt: 9-13
Mike: 8-14
Doug: 10-12

Locks of the Week:

Jeremy: 1-1
Dan: 2-1
Matt: 0-3
Mike: 1-1
Doug: 1-2