October 14, 2009

WEISND Roundtable Week 7 Picks: The University of Notre Dame vs. The University of Southern California (Oh, and some game in Dallas)

October 17, 2009. Feels like we've been waiting for this game for years.

Couldn't be more excited. I knew the hype would get big as we got closer to the game, but it seems like the national media is really starting to dial it up. ESPN, CNNSI, CBS Sportsline, everyone. I think there's a feeling in the air that we're going to see a classic game at ND Stadium this weekend.

On to the picks:

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

Jeremy: Cincinnati (-2.5)

Isn’t it about time for the USF train to jump the tracks? I know this game is down south and the Bulls have great speed on defense but the Bearcats have looked mighty frisky. They’ve already shown this year that they aren’t afraid to go on the road into a hostile environment and pull out an impressive victory. Brian Kelly and Tony Pike get it done again this weekend.

UC 27 USF 17

Dan: Cincinnati -2.5

Cincinnati has actually become a gambling negative going 0-2 ATS the last 2 weeks after opening 3-0. Meanwhile USF is 2 – 1 ATS. But this Cincy team has a feel to it. It has a certain swagger that you have to like in any close game. While I do generally agree with Doug that I like the home teams on Thursday night, I liked Nebraska last week and I like Cincy this week.

Cincinnati 24 USF 20

Matt: USF +2.5

Couldn’t be more excited about this appetizer for the weekend of football. I haven’t seen Cincy play this year yet, so I’m looking forward to seeing what all of the hype is about this Tony Pike guy. I don’t know why but I have a soft spot for Big East football, partially because it gets ragged on so often when the results really haven’t been that bad over the past few years. And with teams like West Virginia, UC and USF not afraid to challenge themselves with some tough nonconference games, I can get behind programs like that (unlike say…Texas and Penn State…). I think USF pulls off the home upset on the strength of the Florida speed their defense possesses.

USF 20 Cincy 17

Mike: Cincinnati –2.5

The Big East may be the weakest BCS conference, but this is an intriguing game nonetheless. The key to this game will be whether Cincinnati, which relies heavily upon its passing game, can maintain its early-season offensive efficiency against USF’s deep and athletic defensive line. With an extra week to prepare, Brian Kelly should have an effective game plan to counter the aggressive USF pass rush with an array of screens, draws and other quick hitters. In addition, given USF’s track record of being exposed as fraudulent each October, Jim Leavitt bears the burden of proving that this year’s Bulls team is not like prior year’s editions.

Cincinnati 31 South Florida 23

Doug: Cincinnati -2.5

Man, it's almost hard to believe that America is going to be tuning in on Thursday to watch Cincinnati and South Florida. Very surreal. Between the Bengals and UC, Cincinnati has suddenly become the epicenter of football.

Everyone seems to be talking about UC's title hopes, but what about South Florida?? If they run the table, why couldn't they get consideration?? Look at their schedule:

Sat, Sep 5 Wofford W 40-7 --
Sat, Sep 12 at Western Kentucky W 35-13 --
Sat, Sep 19 Charleston Southern W 59-0 --
Sat, Sep 26 at (18) Florida State W 17-7 --
Sat, Oct 3 at Syracuse W 34-20 --
Thu, Oct 15 (8) Cincinnati 7:30 pm --
Sat, Oct 24 at Pittsburgh 12:00 pm --
Fri, Oct 30 West Virginia 8:00 am --
Thu, Nov 12 at Rutgers 7:30 pm --
Sat, Nov 21 Louisville TBA --
Sat, Nov 28 (9) Miami (FL) TBA --
Sat, Dec 5 at Connecticut TBA

How can you really fault them for that schedule?? They are playing FSU and Miami in nonconference play, and they have Big East games with Cincy, Pitt, WVU, Rutgers, etc. How is that any worse than your typical Big Ten or ACC team?? Are teams like Pitt and WVU any better or worse than teams like Georgia Tech or BC or Iowa or Wisconsin?? No way. Those games would be toss ups. If USF goes undefeated (obviously a huge if considering their upcoming games), I think I can make a legit case for them.

I'm not even going to pretend to have any analysis of this game since I haven't really watched much of either of these teams, but I gotta take Cincy here. On paper, I think USF has more talent, and I'm also worried that USF has UC's ex-defensive coordinator for insight into how Cincy plays, but I'm going with my man, Brian Kelly. All this guy has done is win big games throughout his time at UC. Just when you think he has no shot, he finds a way to get it done.

One final note, a message to all non-Big East fans out there. Can you please avoid bashing the Big East tonight?? What is the point?? So that you can feel better about your program?? No one from the Big East is saying that they play the best ball in the country, but I guarantee you'll hear a million people saying tomorrow "man, the Big East is awful!! These teams wouldn't win a game in the ______ (insert BCS conference)" and a bunch of other nonsense. Leave these teams alone and let them have their night. No one from UC is saying that they are better than Alabama, so there's no need to judge them against that standard.

Cincinnati 24 USF 20

Oklahoma +3 at Texas (Fair Park, Texas ABC Sports 12pm)

Jeremy: Texas (-3)

Don’t have too much to say about this game. Both of these teams seem overrated and neither has done much to impress. I’m actually surprised this line is so low. I suppose Vegas thinks Bradford can make a 7-10 point difference. If he had his full complement of WRs and more than one game under his belt, I might be inclined to agree. The Sooner defense keeps this one close, but the Horns pull away in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter.

Texas 31 Oklahoma 24

Dan: Oklahoma +3 (LOCK OF THE WEEK)

Neither team has been good ATS this year, as they have each struggled to cover as large favorites. But this is the Red River Shoot Out. Biggest game of the regular season for both teams. I think we’ll see OU come out with no-huddle and lots of motion to put Demarco Murray in different spots on the field to try to get the ball in his hands (think Golden Tate against UW) in order to keep the UT defense off balance. I think Colt McCoy is the most overrated “Heisman Candidate” in recent history. He has 10 TDs and 6 INTs through 5 games against miserable competition. And their best receiver is a white dude! The pundits seem to think a lot more of Texas than I do. Texas may have won 3 of the last 4 (after losing 5 straight), but Stoops and Co. bounce back this week to win outright.

OU 34 Texas 31

Matt: Texas -3

Yawn. Gameday should be in South Bend this weekend. Rooting for OU to knock this overrated Texas team out of the national championship picture.

Texas 27 Oklahoma 21

Mike: Oklahoma +3

Although Texas enters this game with the lofty national ranking and an unblemished record, there are plenty of reasons to love Oklahoma in this game. For the second consecutive year, Texas has been unable to develop any semblance of a running game, thus causing the Longhorns to rely exclusively upon Colt McCoy. This lack of offensive balance could spell doom for Texas against an outstanding Sooner front four, which should be able to rush the passer with reckless abandon. Moreover, the Sooners’ offense should benefit immensely from the addition of Sam Bradford, who played brilliantly last week in his return, albeit against Baylor. Simply put, this appears to be a great matchup for Oklahoma and it won’t surprise me if the game isn’t particularly close.

Oklahoma 31 Texas 14

Doug: Texas -3

Big week for both schools, and an even bigger week for my fantasy football team. A little first place-second place fantasy matchup this week, and I'm squaring off against Colt McCoy. Definitely going to have the generator up and running in the JACC parking lot to check in on this game.

Texas has three potentially big games left on the schedule. The Big 12 championship game (possibly against a resurgent Nebraska team), the game at Oklahoma State (which would be a lot tougher if Dez Bryant was playing.....darn you NCAA!! You're killing fantasy teams everywhere. Just reinstate the guy already. He did nothing wrong.), and the Red Rivalry game this weekend against OU. If they can get by OU this weekend, Texas has a clear path to an undefeated regular season.

Meanwhile, it's sort of amazing since we've already written them off, but OU can put themselves in the driver's seat in the Big 12 South if they can win this game on Saturday. At the end of the day, it's still Oklahoma. They have owned Texas for over a decade, and you have to think they are going to be extra motivated to try to avenge that loss from last year against Texas.

Big game for the quarterbacks a well. Curious to see how both play from an NFL Draft perspective and a Heisman perspective. If Bradford has a monster game, he probably puts himself right back at the top of the 2010 NFL Draft. He had 5 td passes in this game last year.

I'm rooting for OU in this game, but I think I have to go with the Longhorns to survive. OU has been killed with injuries, and I'm not sure they are ready right now to win a game like this one.

Texas 31 OU 27

Iowa -1 at Wisconsin (ESPN 12pm)

Jeremy: Iowa (-1)

The Hawkeyes are getting some serious Rodney Dangerfield treatment from Vegas this week. Sure they haven’t been too impressive, but that win in Happy Valley looks pretty good. Speaking of unimpressive performances, Wisconsin hasn’t done much itself. I know they outgained OSU in Columbus last weekend, and I know the Camp Randall crowd will probably be buzzing, but the Badgers have to show me something first before I can start to believe in them.

Iowa 20 Wisconsin 17

Dan: Wisconsin +1

Wisconsin dominated every statistical aspect of that OSU game last week except the score. They are due for a win. Meanwhile, I’m not convinced at all that this Iowa team is legit. While they may have a strong front 4, their offense is mediocre and the rest of their defense leaves something to be desired. I think Wisconsin gets that win their due for and alleviates the BCS of another Big 10 undefeated issue.

Wisconsin 17 Iowa 14

Matt: Wisconsin +1

I was at the Ohio State – Wisconsin game last week sitting one row behind the Wisconsin bench where the defensive players and coaches were. Could hear everything that was going on while they were on the sideline and came away thoroughly impressed with their defense and gameplan against Pryor. They were saying all game long to just stuff the run and not even to worry about Pryor throwing. And they were right. I think Wiscy wins this one at home.

Wisconsin 18 Iowa 17

Mike: Wisconsin +1 - Lock of the Week

Despite a somewhat lopsided final score, Wisconsin actually outgained Ohio State by a significant margin in Columbus last week, so there is reason to believe that the Badgers are a bona fide contender in the Big Ten. Iowa, meanwhile, continues to win in unconvincing fashion against feeble opponents on a weekly basis. In other words, the Hawkeyes, undefeated record notwithstanding, appear to be living on borrowed time. Iowa has shown a knack for the close win, but, unfortunately for Hawkeye denizens, this game may not be close.

Wisconsin 34 Iowa 17

Doug: Wisconsin +1 -- LOCK OF THE WEEK

From what I saw out of them last weekend, Wisconsin is a pretty typical Wisconsin team. Hard-nosed, good running game, mediocre QB play, tons of white guys. They aren't what they were under Barry Alvarez, but it's still a decent second tier Big Ten team.

I see no reason why Wisconsin won't win this game straight up. I'm still not buying into Iowa. Iowa is Wisconsin with a fancier ranking. Michigan had five turnovers last week and still should have won that game. What happens when Iowa goes on the road to play an angry Wisconsin team with similar (if not better) talent??

Camp Randall is one of the toughest places to win in college football, especially when the Badgers are desperate. I think Wisky wins this game and maybe comfortably.

Wisconsin 24 Iowa 10

South Carolina +17 at Alabama (ESPN 7:45pm)

Jeremy: South Carolina (+17) – LOCK OF THE WEEK

Great defensive matchup. Is this Spurrier’s best South Carolina team? I know its early, but I can’t think of many better. I think the Cocks can keep this one close into the 4th quarter. But if Bama covers this spread, there should be no doubt that Nick Saban’s got the best team in the country. That SEC title game can’t get here fast enough.

Alabama 23 South Carolina 13

Dan: South Carolina +17

South Carolina may have played like crap against Kentucky, and Alabama may be the best team in the country. But 17 points just seems like a lot of points in an SEC match up between 2 strong defensive teams.

Alabama 20 South Carolina 7

Matt: South Carolina +17 - LOCK OF THE WEEK

Two great defenses going at it. Looking forward to seeing Norwood v. Ingram and Rolando McClain introducing himself to Stephen Garcia. Alabama wins it, but USC keeps it “closer than the experts think.”

South Carolina 9 Alabama 17

Mike: South Carolina +17

This game has all the makings of a classic SEC slugfest, which should please Nick Saban far more than it pleases Steve Spurrier. South Carolina has a defense that is capable of holding its own against the powerful Alabama running game, while the Crimson Tide defense is capable of stifling any offense in the country. If the Gamecocks offense, specifically Stephen Garcia, can protect the ball, this should be a close contest. The Tide will roll, but South Carolina will cover.

Alabama 23 South Carolina 10

Doug: South Carolina +17

Whoa, there's the respect for Bama that we've been waiting for all fall. Last week, they were -6 over an Ole Miss team that everyone knew they would destroy. Now, they are suddenly -17 over a South Carolina team that probably deserves a little more respect than Vegas has given them.

Just goes to show that Vegas doesn't know everything. Take the points here. This line is too high. Bama is great, but more in the "grind you into the ground" way. Saban would be more than happy to win this game 17-3, but that doesn't get you a cover.

Plus, I think South Carolina is a good football team. I don't know what happened against Kentucky, but I've been impressed with that defense.

Bama is not losing this game at home, but 17 points is too steep.

Alabama 24 South Carolina 10

Virginia Tech -3 at Georgia Tech (ESPN2 6pm)

Jeremy: Virginia Tech (-3)

I really have no idea what to think of these two teams. The Hokies have been more consistent to date, but Georgia Tech certainly seems to have more explosiveness on the offensive side. Since the Yellow Jackets keep playing Jekyll & Hyde, guess I’ll have to go with Va Tech.

Va Tech 24 GT 20

Dan: VT -3

I’ve been a Georgia Tech supporter in both reality and gambling ever since the Paul Johnson hire. But I just have a hunch that this VT team has something a little special going and can slow down GT enough to cover relatively easily.

VT 24 GT 17

Matt: Georgia Tech +3

GT’s offense is either really good of FSU was really bad. Probably a lot of both. I apologize for that awful Lock of the Week pick last week. I am hoping for the outright win by the Jackets so we don’t have any possible scenario where Virginia Tech sneaks into national championship contention. They got their doors blown off by Alabama. Case closed.

VT 20 GT 23

Mike: Georgia Tech +3

After some early season struggles, both of these teams’ offenses are really clicking right now. The Jackets’ offense, however, is a notch better than the Hokies’ offense and Tech’s Paul Johnson has a much better track record as an offensive coordinator than the perpetually embattled Bryan Stinespring. By contrast, the Virginia Tech defense, though not as formidable as years past, is better than the Georgia Tech defense, which is a complete mess. These two teams look almost dead even on paper, so I will side with the home field advantage and the points.

Georgia Tech 24 Virginia Tech 23

Doug: Virginia Tech -3

Honestly, I'm intrigued by the idea of Georgia Tech winning this game, but Frank Beamer and his staff are too good to get fooled by the triple option. VT is a disciplined defense that isn't going to get sloppy against that type of offense. If you play fundamentally sound defense, Georgia Tech's offense can be shut down.

I do enjoy watching Georgia Tech play though. Paul Johnson has even said that he thinks the triple option could work in the NFL if a team went all in and made it the focal point of their offense. I think the Miami Dolphins are validating that theory to some degree. They run that Wildcat offense all the time, and it's tough to stop. I never really believed that a Wildcat/option offense could be successful in pro football, but I've seen a lot of NFL teams doing it well.

Virginia Tech 20 Georgia Tech 16

USC -11 at Notre Dame (NBC Sports 3:30pm)

Jeremy: USC

I know its been said a million times already this week, but this is easily the biggest game of Weis’ career. He has basically staked his entire future in South Bend on this weekend. The list of recruits (both in the 2010 and 2011 classes) on campus is mind-boggling. While a bad performance might not destroy the incoming class (remember Floyd committing after the 2007 debacle?), you’ve gotta think these kids will want evidence that the program is heading in the right direction and that Charlie will be the man leading the way for the foreseeable future.

An ND win will give Weis the signature victory he’s been looking for. It would also give the team a much-needed shot of confidence going into the second half of the season. Reports that Floyd could be back as early as the Navy game support the notion that the Irish could run the table and find themselves playing in a BCS bowl come January.

So what do the Irish have to do to be in this game in the closing minutes? Here’s a few thoughts:

1) Put USC in 3rd and long. Its unreasonable to think that ND can stop, or even slow down, the Trojans on the ground. The SC OL and RBs are just too good. But, if ND can put Barkley and 3rd and 5+ a few times each drive and force him to make a play, the defense could get off the field or at least hold SC to a FG.

2) Win the TO battle. The Irish have been pretty good thus far in taking care of the ball. They have not been great in creating turnovers on defense.

3) Make a play on defense or STs. Not necessarily a TD, but a big play that gives the offense great field position.

4) Limit the mistakes on offense. Penalties have killed quite a few drives this year and taken some big plays off the board (70+ yard screen against Michigan, Rudolph’s TD against Washington).

I know some have said that the absence of Michael Floyd will make the difference in this game. I’m not sure that I completely agree with that. The SC defense has been somewhat vulnerable through the air this year, so if the OL (likely keeping a TE in for max-protect) can keep Clausen upright, I think ND can move the ball. If they can stick the ball in the end zone rather than settle for FGs, I think the game could be close in the 4th quarter.

But ultimately, the Trojans just have too much on both sides of the ball. ND can’t stop the rushing attack and McKnight and Co. are sure to break some big runs. Carroll has basically used Barkley as a game manager thus far, but I’m guessing he’ll get to take a couple shots downfield on Saturday. If Ronald Johnson or Damian Williams breaks free in the secondary it could be a very long day for the Irish.

USC 31 ND 24

Dan: USC (win)

No scores, no spread, no winner. I wish I had the time and energy to devote words upon words to this game. But that is Doug’s forte. So I only have one insight. USC has absolutely dominated Notre Dame over the last 7 years. This has been arguably the most dominating relationship between 2 “major” programs in years. Until I see something different out of an ND team on the field against USC, I will struggle to believe in the ability of the team to win. I’ll take USC to win.

Matt: USC

This is the biggest game in recent Notre Dame history. Charlie has been stockpiling talent the last few years and finally has the horses on paper to compete and win against USC. Not only that, take a look at the list of recruits that are going to be in town for the weekend. It’s jaw-dropping. If ND can somehow get this W in front of a frenzied crowd, I would fully expect to see an avalanche of 5 star talent coming on board, not to mention the headway that will be made with the current juniors. In short, win this game and ND is on the road to a national championship caliber team next year and beyond. Lose, and Charlie will have gone another year without a meaningful victory. I hope I’m wrong, but I think on Saturday at 6:30 we will have the same old questions about ND and Charlie Weis.

USC 31 ND 21

Mike: USC (outright)

One can only hope that Charlie Weis spent the off week focusing on fundamentals rather than gadget plays and other nonsense. If the Irish do not tackle better than they have in weeks past, the Trojans’ Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford will run all over Notre Dame, thereby allowing true frosh Matt Barkley to play the role of “game manager.” As usual, USC has one of the best defenses in the nation, but Notre Dame should be able to move the ball effectively if Jimmy Clausen continues to play at his current level. I suspect that the Irish will keep this game close before a spirited home crowd before eventually falling short, yet again, against the Trojans.

USC 34 Notre Dame 27

Doug: Notre Dame

I look at this game through two different prisms. The realist prism and the "I really want to win this game" ND fan prism. A basic summary of both positions:

1) The realist prism -- This version of myself looks at this game and says that we will bring everything we've got (especially early) but that we'll eventually get outclassed by USC. The realist Doug says that we will come out like gangbusters with a well-scripted drive to start the game that Weis has probably been plotting for nine months, but that USC will wear us down, kill us with their team speed, and beat us up at the line of scrimmage.

Let's be honest, we haven't played anyone even CLOSE to as good as USC this year. We've played five games. Two of our opponents are horrible/mid-majors (Purdue, Nevada), two of our opponents are average (Michigan State, Washington), and one of our opponents is only slightly above-average (Michigan). Thus far, we've demonstrated that we are only marginally better than these teams we've played so far, if at all. USC is not Michigan State. USC is not Washington. USC has elite offensive linemen, elite skill players, an elite front seven, and a big time secondary. They have speed and size and depth like we haven't seen so far. We've played a depleted Michigan team, a rebuilding Sparty team with 3 star type talent, and a fairly talented but extremely thin Washington team. If you put the best players on all those teams together, I'm not even sure that combined team would be more talented than USC.

Plus, they have Pete Carroll. Pete Carroll versus Charlie Weis. I look at that matchup and cringe. I think about Pete Carroll whipping his guys into a frenzy and pumping everyone up on the sideline. Then I think about Charlie Weis waddling around with his front butt in full effect and boogers dripping out of his nose. In terms of the coaching matchup, Weis has been outcoached BADLY for three straight years by Pete Carroll.

The realist side of me says that USC's dominant front four will get on pressure on Clausen, they'll bracket Golden Tate with two guys, our running game will stall, they'll hit a big special teams play, and that will be enough. Maybe we make the game interesting with an emotionally-charged performance and make some plays, but the end result is our 8th straight loss to USC.

2) The desperate ND fan prism -- When I look at this game through the ND fan prism, I start seeing scenarios that could give us a fighting chance in this game. All the intangibles are pointing to the Irish. I see an ND team that is DESPERATE to put itself back on the national map. The national media has all but buried ND over the last 2-3 years, and these players know that the only way anyone will take the Irish seriously is if we win this game (or at least have a chance to win it in the fourth quarter). In terms of motivation, I know USC will be ready to play, but how could this game possibly mean as much to USC as it does to ND?? USC has 4-5 HUGE games on their schedule this year. This is it for ND. This is our Super Bowl. We can beat the MSUs and UConns of the world all we want, but the only game that will move the meter for the Irish in 2009 is the USC game. Win this game, and suddenly everyone is buzzing about ND. Lose this game, and we're completely off the radar again in terms of being taken seriously. There is much more for ND to play for on Saturday than USC.

I also see some matchups that could go well for ND, and I see a USC team that is a LITTLE more vulnerable than they've been at other times in the Pete Carroll era. No matter how precocious he may be, Matt Barkley is still a freshman. He was rattled for most of the game at Ohio State. If he is even a little off and throws a couple picks, that might be the window that ND needs to win this game.

I also see an ND team that might actually be able to win a few battles at the line of scrimmage unlike in previous years, and I even see a coaching staff that has really had ND ready to play this year. Charlie's work in changing offenses from week to week and his playcalling early in the game has been masterful. There's no other way to put it. The Wildcat has been effective, the no huddle five wides has been dynamic, the late game two minute offense has been great, and even the running game has been good. Never in a million years did I think a Charlie Weis team could run the ball on USC, but it would not shock me if we have some success on the ground with the 1-2 punch of Hughes and Allen.

Throw in a crowd that should be nothing short of ELECTRIC from start to finish, and it's hard not to start imagining a victory on Saturday the longer I view this game through the ND fan prism.

So there are the two big overviews in my mind on how to look at this game.

With that general overview in place, here are the key matchups from my perspective:

1) How good exactly is the ND offense?? Is it good enough to win this game alone?? --

First, I think this offense is as good as the 2005 offense that gave USC all it could handle. It's the first time I've looked at our offense and felt like we could move the ball on the ground and through the air on just about anyone. All of the things that made the 2005 offense great are back. The crossing routes, the 1-2 punch in the running game with Hughes and Allen, the great quarterback play, good pass protection, and a superstar tight end. When everything is in place, this offense can be a thing of beauty.

With that said, we won't really know what this offense is made of until we see this team against USC. Will we remain sturdy on the line and in the running game, or will morph into the 2006 offense reincarnated and get shoved around up front?? Check out USC's defensive front. Absurd! The scary part is that there isn't one senior in that entire front seven, and that's including their two deep.

Everyone is focused on the Irish defense, but I think our offense is the key to this game. Let's be honest, we are an offensive football team, and USC knows that they have us in the bag if they can shutdown our ofense. If we can't score points or at least control the game with our offense, we can't win this game. They are going to try to force us to be one-dimensional, bring pressure in every way possible if we start passing on every down, and take Golden Tate out of the game. That's USC's strategy. Everyone already knows it.

We have to be a two-dimensional offense that can run the ball, keep Jimmy protected, and make plays down the field. If the running game gets going and USC has to account for it, they won't be able to come after Clausen with reckless abandon. If we can do all those things, we have a great chance to win this game.

2) How good is Matt Barkley?? --

USC is going to run the football on us. It's inarguable. Their offensive line is too good, and our defensive line is too shaky for that not to happen. However, I don't think they can just run it 10 times in a row down the field. USC is going to be in some 2nd/3rd and long situations, and Barkley will have to make some plays for them to win. ND has to capitalize by getting pressure on Barkley and forcing some errant throws. It would be long overdue for one of our corners to make a really big play.

I honestly don't know what Barkley is going to bring to the table in his first SC-ND game. There's not as much riding on it for him as there is for Jimmy Clausen, but Barkley could solidify his status as a superduper prospect with a big game in South Bend. Think about what the media will be saying if Barkley plays great. It'll be like Thom Brennaman on Tim Tebow.

Barkley will have Ronald Johnson back this week, which will be another weapon for him to use. I would imagine that USC will want Barkley to throw no more than 15-20 times on Saturday. If they get in a situation where he needs to lead a big drive for a score, can Barkley march them down the field through the air?? He did it against the Buckeyes, but he's still a true freshman.

3) The Weather/Turf -- Cmon, it wouldn't be USC-Notre Dame in South Bend unless there was some talk about the condition of the turf. I hope we haven't cut the grass in a month, and that Ben Crenshaw was brought in to turn ND Stadium into Warren South. Give me 6" "rough" and slow conditions all day long. I have no desire to see another mudpit, and the long grass might actually help to stabilize the field. Plus, I just love the psychological edge of the "long" grass. It really did seem to get into USC's head in 2005.

As for the weather, there is talk of a high of 49 degrees with a low in the 30s. Brrrrr. Plus, I'm reading about 18-20 mph winds!! Dear god, we have an 8:30 am tee time at Warren on Sunday. British Open conditions!! Might be hitting knockdowns and Scottish bump and runs all day long. Break out those windbreakers and move that ball back in the stance. Yikes. Some of those long par fours are going to feel like par sixes if we're into the wind.

How are those USC boys going to like hitting in that cold weather?? When they get popped a couple times and feel that sting from the cold temps, are they going to fold up?? The temps have been pretty mild in South Bend the last few ND-USC games. How is a warm weather team going to react to playing in true cold weather conditions??

This is the first time in awhile where the homefield advantage might really mean something for the Irish. The crowd is going to be rocking like it hasn't rocked in years, and the weather is going to be downright cold by gametime.

Honestly, I love it. I love going to these kinds of games. Not like 20 degrees or anything where you are too cold to even cheer, but cold enough that you feel like yelling and screaming a lot just because it makes you warmer.

4) Pete Carroll vs. Charlie Weis -- Finally, there's the matchup on the sidelines. Mr. Hollywood versus Mr. Schematic Advantage. Pete Carroll with his "I've had 25 Mountain Dews today and couldn't be more amped and check out all the celebrities on our sideline!!" persona and Charlie Weis with his "Look it, I get up at 3am every morning to watch unnecessary film and can't wait to tell everyone about it" act. Two of the most popular and also unpopular coaches in the business. Two ENORMOUS egos who happen to have some incredible strengths and a few fatal flaws.

First, Pete Carroll. I can't believe how much criticism there is for Pete Carroll. It's Pete freaking Carroll!! Look at the guy's record. The guy has been one of the best cocahces of all time (seriously, his only contemporaries are historical figures at this point), and now people are all over him because he lost to Washington?? Jesus, the standards are high at USC. We would be building a statue of Charlie Weis if he beat Ohio State and Cal on the road in the same year.

I think people are just bummed out that the Trojans aren't the offensive juggernauts that they were in the early part of the decade. USC wins these days with their defense. It's not as glamorous though, and I think USC fans have the same complex that ND fans have when it comes to offense. Both fanbases want the golden boy QB and high-flying offenses that can put up 30-40 points every time out. Pete Carroll dials it up offensively when he needs to, but he's perfectly content to win games 17-10 whenever he can. Personally, that's the type of coach I would want, but USC fans want their Hollywood coach to be more of a Hollywood offensive gameplanner.

With that said, anyone who thinks Pete Carroll is some glorified recruiter who just rolls the balls out there is kidding themselves. Carroll is an outstanding coach. Watch how they play defense. It's incredible. They wrap and tackle, they play with intensity, they bring pressure, they chase you from sideline to sideline, and they ballhawk in the secondary. If you try to run screens on USC, they sniff them out practically as soon as the QB lets go of the ball. To move the ball on USC, it takes extraordinary execution because they are relentless and will not beat themselves.

Even though they have dominated us through the years, Pete Carroll seems to take the ND series seriously. I think he has an appreciation for the rivalry and what the game is all about. I have no doubt that they will be ready for us this Saturday.

As for Charlie Weis, where do I begin?? Sometimes he gives me an extreme amount of confidence in his abilities, and other times I hear the guy open his mouth and just cringe. It's like he just can't help himself. Why is he doing so much talking in the media this week about our "temperament" and how he thinks we're ready to finally beat USC and all this other nonsense?? Why tell that story about the hat with his daughter?? WHAT IS THE POINT??! Is he trying to motivate the press or something?? Does he want Eric Hansen running through a wall for him?? Just stop talking already, get some thicker skin or something, and stop using your press conference as a therapy session. You aren't a message board poster. You're the head coach. Focus your energies on the team and not the media or the fanbase. You don't need to make me feel better about the team or our chances. I'm not the guy who has to run out of that tunnel on Saturday.

Notice how you haven't heard anything like that out of Pete Carroll all week. I haven't seen one quote from him. Couldn't Weis have taken that approach instead of taking the Oprah Winfrey route?? Talk about how good USC is, how special the rivalry is, how we tried to recruit a lot of their players, how hard we are going to have to work in practice to win, and how much we need the fans behind us. And then go out on Saturday and kick butt.

Anyway, back to the game. How is Weis going to ensure that this team can compete with USC this time around?? Is it because we have some great game plan drawn up, or is it because we're a better football team?? I have no doubt that we will have a great opening drive planned, and I think we might even march right down the field and score. But it's a 60 minute game. Are we going to hammer on the things we need to do to win this football game, or are we going to lose focus in the 2nd and 3rd quarters like we have all year and let it slip away??

Weis has many brilliant qualities. He's got a lot of guts, a great offensive mind, very innovative, great feel for how to call a game, and I like that he is creative in using screens and the tight end and stuff like that. We run an NFL offense, and we run it pretty darn well.

But then I think about Weis in a big game and I really can't get a read on it. The last time we really played any big time games like this was in 2006 against USC, Michigan, and LSU. That's how long it's been. And we got annihilated in all three games. We haven't really been relevant nationally since that LSU game, so even our games with USC the last two years were like glorified scrimmages. There have been zero data points for Weis in big games in almost three years.

What is he going to be like in this game?? Is he going to rise to the occasion?? Is he going to melt down?? Is he going to be the steady hand that we need?? Is he going to trust his defense or take too many gambles??

The only answer that we can really give to any of these questions is that we really don't know. We can certainly hope for the best, but we don't really know what Weis is going to be like in his first truly big game in almost three years.

A lot of people are saying that Charlie Weis has to coach the best game of his life on Saturday, but I don't think that's the case at all. The real work for this game started in the summer and in the weight room and in practice preparation for this game. That's where Charlie Weis has hopefully done his job in getting this team ready to win this game. The more Charlie Weis tries to overcoach in this game, the less likely we are to win it.

I guess it's time to make a prediction at this point. USC is going to give us fits, and I have no doubt that there will be times when they make us look like we don't belong on the field with them. There's just no way to simulate their defense in practice, and going up against their front seven will be different from any front seven we've seen since....well....USC last year. I've been reading that USC has some special packages to get to Clausen, and it will be a long day if we can't protect the quarterback. If USC is in Clausen's face all day, expect sacks and turnovers and rushed passes.

But Steve Sarkisian (of all people) said something interesting this week. There is a different energy within and around the Notre Dame program this year. He said you could just feel it on campus. There's a buzz there that hasn't been there in a few years. Part of it is just the desperation of the fans and the campus to get back on top, but part of it seems to be a belief that this team might truly be something special. I think people really believe in this team. I really haven't felt like this since the 2005 team, and I remember having a similar feeling going into that 2005 ND-USC game that I have now. We can beat these guys.

Sure, the defense stinks this year, but the defense stunk in 2005 too. It didn't matter. As much as I hate to face this reality, the key to ND football under Charlie Weis has always been the offense. The whole team feeds off the offense. When Weis has had a balanced offense to go with the potent passing attack, our offense has been very very tough to stop. If we can control the ball with high-quality possessions, score points on most of our drives (FGs or TDs), and hit some big plays when needed, I see no reason why we can't be right in this game.

This game means so much to Notre Dame. It means a ton for Weis. It means a ton for the guys who have gone 10-15 the last two years. It means a ton for the fans. It means a ton for Jack Swarbrick. It means a ton to recruiting. We have been down and out for a long time, and everyone just really wants this game.

Now I know people could ask, doesn't everyone say that when they go up against USC? Didn't Ohio State fans say the same thing?? Didn't Cal fans say this probably two weeks ago?? Isn't every team desperate to beat USC to validate their programs?? And what has that done for them??

True, true. I can't really dispute that, but I will say that there is something about playing at Notre Dame Stadium in a big game that just makes things different. ND Stadium isn't always the most intimidating stadium in the country, but there is something magical about that stadium in a big game. I can't really describe it, but it's palpable. And I have no doubt that I'll have that same feeling on Saturday. In a big game at ND Stadium, there's a feeling inside the building that the Irish can beat anyone.

No matter what happens, there really is nothing like ND-USC at Notre Dame Stadium. The bands, the pageantry, Friday night at The Backer, Mike Collins setting the stage with a weather report and some goosebump-inducing words, the electricity in the crowd, the drama, the tension, the uniforms, the helmets. There's nothing like feeling the sun setting over the stadium and the lights coming on as the second half gets underway. I've read some stuff this week from some former players who say that there's less trash talk in the ND-USC game than any other game they play. It's like they can feel the history of the rivalry unfolding before their eyes. Pretty awesome stuff.

So maybe the smart play is to go with USC here, but I'm going with another magical moment in Notre Dame Stadium. ND shocks the world, and ND fans celebrate deep into the night.......


.....well, at least the ones that don't have 8:30am tee times the next day at Warren!! My god! Where do I sign up for the Anthony Kim plan of coming home "sideways" after closing down the Backer and then showing up at the first tee the next day double fisting a 24 oz coffee and a Warren Golf Course breakfast sandwich while trying to keep my hands from shaking?? The loose cannon!!!

Then again, there will be nothing like walking down that second fairway to hit my 245 yard second shot into a howling 20 mph wind and seeing the Golden Dome off in the distance, especially the day after seeing ND win one of the great games of all time.

Go Irish!

ND 27 USC 24

Bonus Picks:


Wake Forest (+6.5) over Clemson: Wake is the superior team here, but they are somehow getting a decent amount of points. Even in Death Valley, the Deacs should be able to cover this one.

Marshall (+17) over West Virginia: Is there any doubt that Marshall will be a live underdog in the always heated “Friends of Coal Bowl?” Not in my mind.

Nebraska (-7) over Texas Tech: I like when Texas Tech runs up the score against teams like Kansas State because it causes the Red Raiders to be overvalued from a gambling standpoint.

Connecticut (-11) over Louisville: Can we just pull the plug on the Kragthorpe era now? This is painful for all parties.

Arkansas (+24) over Florida: The Razorbacks were not ready for the big stage in their first big SEC road test at Alabama, but they should give a more honest performance this week.


Houston Texas +4.5 at Cincinnati Bengals -- GULP. I'm telling you as a Bengal fan that these are the kinds of games that the Bengals have always lost. Just when you think they are turning the corner, they lay an egg. Marvin has probably been telling them all week how great they are. I'm too scarred as a Bengals fan to truly feel comfortable with this team week in and week out. Houston badly needs a win in this game, and it's not like they don't have talent. I would gladly take a one point win for the Bengals, so I'd recommend taking the points.

New York Giants +3 at New Orleans -- My NFL Lock of the Week. The Giants are the best team in football with the best front seven in the game. The G-Men have become an outstanding organization from top to bottom. If the Giants win the bowl, isn't Tom Coughlin on track towards the NFL Hall of Fame?? How could he not be?? No one talks about him, but he's in the process of one of the great coaching careers of all time between his tenure in Jacksonville and now New York. And to think he was on the verge of getting fired by the Giants the year that he won that first Super Bowl.

Ohio State -14 at Purdue -- Ohio State has traditionally throttled Purdue up there. I can't see Purdue doing anything on the Buckeye defense.

Wake +7 at Clemson -- Wake is QUIETLY having a good year. Heard there is going to be a party of the year in Winston for that Wake-Miami game on Halloween.

Texas Tech +10 at Nebraska -- Color me impressed with Nebraska so far. They look like the team to beat in the Big 12 North.

BC -2.5 over NC State -- BC's last game before their Super Bowl in South Bend. USC is to ND what ND is to BC. We better be ready for those jokers.

Arkansas +24.5 at Florida -- Should be a fun one. If ND is down 21-3 at the half, I'll be in the parking lot watching this game.

Arizona -4.5 over Stanford -- The "Stanford is for real" bandwagon is my "Broken Wheel on the Bandwagon" Award winner of the week. Not a good performance in Corvallis at all last week.

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

Jeremy: 21-19
Dan: 22-18
Matt: 17-23
Mike: 16-24
Doug: 20-20

Jeremy: 3-2
Dan: 3-3
Matt: 1-4
Mike: 2-3
Doug: 3-3

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