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
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.
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.
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
USF -6.5 at Syracuse UNOFFICIAL LOCK OF THE WEEK
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.
Lock of the Weeks:
HLS Podcast: The “Catching Up” Episode
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