One of the more tumultuous weeks in Notre Dame history, and now it's time for one of our bigger games of the year. A road game at night against a surging Pitt team looks like a tough task, but will the Irish respond and play up to their potential to get a big win for their embattled head coach??
Some thoughts from our round table on this week's games.
West Virginia +8.5 at Cincinnati (ESPN 7pm)
Jeremy: Cincinnati (-8.5)
In Brian Kelly I Trust.
UC 38 WVU 24
Dan: Cincinnati -8.5
8.5 points seems like a lot at first, but I love the home team on Thursday/Friday night. As long as the new QB controversy does not distract them, they should cruise to a relatively easy victory.
Cincinnati 35 West Virginia 24
Matt: West Virginia +8.5
Sorry, rough week at school, so abbreviated analysis this week. It’s a good thing I am doing better in school than I am with these picks this year. As for this game, I just have a feeling the ‘Neers keep it close. Is Zach Collaros really this good? We’ll find out.
WV 22 UC 28
Mike: Cincinnati (-8)
West Virginia has the ability to beat Cincinnati, but the Mountaineers are not playing at a peak level right now. To wit, last week in Morgantown, Bill Stewart’s squad barely beat an undermanned Louisville team that is playing out the string for a lame duck coach. Such a performance does not exactly inspire confidence that the ‘Eers will be able to hang with the high powered Bearcats on the road. With a short week of preparation, West Virginia will have no answers for the explosive Cincinnati offense.
Cincinnati 41 West Virginia 25
Doug: West Virginia +8.5
Well, this is it for UC. 3 more games for a shot at immortality. Can they keep it up?? Who knows. Every game is a HUGE game for UC, and now you have the Brian Kelly to ND rumors as a possible distraction. This game makes me nervous. It's just really really hard to go undefeated in college football, especially when you're not the most talented team in the world as it is. UC really has not had that clunker game yet, and it almost feels like they are due after that wild game against UConn last week.
Good decision by Brian Kelly to keep it going with Zach Collaros. I don't think he had a choice. Gotta stay with Collaros and keep it rolling. Tough spot for BK. I know Tony Pike is the senior and the captain and has NFL prospects to play for, but it's week 10 in a season where your team is 9-0. If you throw Tony Pike in there and he's not quite ready to go and it costs you a game, you'll never live it down. I think this is a good decision. Until Collaros struggles, keep him in there.
I personally think this offense is more potent with Zach Collaros even though Tony Pike is the more talented player. His ability to run gives them a dimension that they didn't have before. The trouble for UC offensively is that they don't have the type of personnel up front to be able to consistently run the ball, so they pretty much have to scrap and claw to get yards on the ground. With Collaros, he gives them a ground attack to go along with the passing game. They can rely on him for draws and zone reads and some QB scrambles to keep the chains moving. With Pike, almost all of their damage has to come through the air.
As for this game, I expect to see a close game. It's not like West Virginia is some chump team. In terms of personnel, WVU is probably more talented than UC from top to bottom on their roster. With Devine and Jarrett Brown and company, they'll score some points.
It would not shock me in the slightest if WVU wins this game, but I can't go against the Bearcats at this point. I think UC finds a way to win and moves one step closer to another Big East championship.
Cincinnati 27 WVU 21
Iowa +13 at Ohio State (ABC Sports 3:30pm)
Jeremy: OSU (-13) - LOCK OF THE WEEK
This line has moved quite a bit, especially after the announcement that
Stanzi was undergoing season-ending surgery. With Stanzi, OSU wins this
game. Without him, they roll. Guess we can shoot down all the
TP/Tressel chatter after the Vest wins another Big Ten title, right?
OSU 27 Iowa 3
Dan: Iowa +13
Glad to see Iowa was revealed as a fraud last week. However, I think the punters will be the most active players on the field on Saturday as Tressel ball continues and Iowa’s D-Line keeps Pryor in check. Ohio State controls the game, but the score stays close.
Ohio State 17 Iowa 10
Matt: Ohio State -13 LOCK OF THE WEEK
Thank you Northwestern, for exposing Iowa as the frauds that they were.
Ohio State 28 Iowa 6
Mike: Ohio State (-13)- LOCK OF THE WEEK:
Iowa’s loss to Northwestern obviously takes some of the luster off this game, but first place in the Big Ten and a trip to the Rose Bowl remains at stake. Unfortunately for Iowa, sophomore quarterback James Vandenburg, who struggled badly last week, will be under center in place of Ricky Stanzi. Without Stanzi, the Hawkeyes will not be able to muster any offense against a stout Ohio State defense.
Ohio State 30 Iowa 6
Doug: Iowa +13
Enormous win for the Buckeyes last week at Penn State. Just when you think they are losing their grip on the Big Ten, they put the clamp back down. I had a feeling that the Bucks were due for a big win, but didn't think it would come in dominant fashion.
Jim Tressel has gone through some rough patches, but his record speaks for itself. If they beat Iowa on Saturday, it will be their fifth straight year of being at least co-Big Ten champions. At this point, I don't know how you could ever not pick them to win the Big Ten as long as Jim Tressel is there.
I think Iowa is going to be ready to go though. This is the kind of game where Iowa has nothing to lose and can go in and let loose. It's not like they haven't won on the road before. They've already won at Penn State, at Wisconsin, and at Michigan State. Not a bad track record. Iowa has won with their defense, and the Buckeyes offense is still sporadic.
Read an interesting note in the Columbus Dispatch the other day. The state of Iowa is the smallest among all Big Ten states by a considerable margin. Only 3 million people in the state. The next closest is Minnesota, which has about 5 million people. Pretty amazing what Iowa does year in and year out in football in such a small state. Ferentz said there's usually only about 15 Division I caliber players in the state every year, and it's not like they get all of them. Some of the names of 2 and 3 star guys who ended up thriving at Iowa (Shonn Greene, Bob Sanders, etc) were shocking to me. Just goes to show that high school star ranking is not everything in college football.
I think this game will be closer than the 13 point spread, but the Buckeyes are not losing this game at home. Ohio State wins and clinches a spot in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State-Oregon would be a pretty intriguing game if you ask me.
Ohio State 24 Iowa 14
Florida -15 at South Carolina (CBS Sports 3:30pm)
Jeremy: South Carolina (+15)
Spurrier has burned me quite a few times this year, so I'm not at all
confident of this pick. But something is not right with the Florida
offense and I think this line is a bit too high.
Florida 28 South Carolina 17
Dan: South Carolina +15
The ole Spurrier bowl. This line is tough, because I feel that two touchdowns is about right. I think South Carolina will do just enough to keep Florida within sight, but never really be close to being in the game.
Florida 28 South Carolina 14
Matt: South Carolina +15
This is a lot of points to be giving for an SEC road game. USC is in their typical second half swoon, but I sense some magic coming out of Williams Brice Stadium this Saturday.
Florida 17 USC 14
Mike: South Carolina (+15):
Florida seems to be rounding into peak form while South Carolina has struggled badly in recent weeks, so these two teams appear to be heading in different directions. South Carolina, however, will be pumped for the opportunity to knock off the Gators and Steve Spurrier has given his alma mater fits in the past (last year notwithstanding). Maybe it’s the wine talking, but I will call for an outright upset by the Gamecocks.
South Carolina 26 Florida 24
Doug: Florida -15
I’ll go with the Gators here. Why not?? South Carolina is reeling lately.
At some point, I feel like Florida is going to go on the road and thrash somebody. Look at what they did down the stretch in November last year:
South Carolina 56-6
Florida State 45-15
This team has had some transition offensively, but now they are hitting their stretch run. If they want to be peaking against Bama, it’s probably time to blow out a team like South Carolina.
Florida 31 South Carolina 14
Stanford +10 at USC (Fox Sports Network 3:30pm)
Jeremy: Stanford (+10)
I expected Oregon to have a bit of a letdown last week, but that was
quite a shock. I know Gearhart and Luck provide the Cardinal with some
nice punch on offense, but putting up 50+ on the Ducks?!? Impressive.
Guess I'm legitimately terrified of Stanford again. SC wins this game,
but much closer than they'd prefer.
USC 23 Stanford 17
Dan: USC -10
They have to bounce back and blow someone out again eventually, right? Well, maybe not a blow-out, but a dominating performance. Stanford may have confidence after their win against Oregon, but I also feel a little bit of a let down coming. Look for Everson Griffen to put a hurt on Andrew Luck and force the youngin’ into a couple mistakes.
USC 31 Stanford 17
Matt: Stanford +10
Newsflash: USC is not that good this year. That doesn’t mean that Pete Carroll has lost it or anything, but they just don’t have it in ‘09. But I’m sure the powers that be at ND will point to the ND-USC game t when they announce Charlie will be back. “Progress! We took USC to the wire at home! We didn’t lose by 35.”
If I had any guts I would take Stanford to straight up win this game.
Stanford 20 USC 24
Mike: Stanford (+10):
The Trojans are banged up and struggling right now, while Stanford should be flying high after its victory over Oregon. As surprising as it seems, the key to this game may be whether USC will be able to match Stanford’s level of toughness. Behind a bounce back performance for Matt Barkley, USC will escape, but fail to cover, for the second straight week.
USC 24 Stanford 20
Doug: USC -10 -- LOCK OF THE WEEK
I’m a believer in Stanford. I flipped over and watched bits and pieces of their game against Oregon. Very impressive. Stanford plays a lot like Alabama if Alabama had less talent and more white guys. They grind you and grind you and then hit play action passes. Gerhart is really a great player. Just one of those Mike Alstott types who pounds you between the tackles and loves carrying it 30+ times a game. I enjoy watching him play.
The question is whether that formula is going to work against USC. USC is a tough team to run the ball on at home. If Stanford can’t get Gerhart going, it could be a long day for them.
How much more pounding can Gerhart take?? He leads the nation in carries right now by a wide margin. Is he going to have anything left at the end of the year??
Stanford is good, but it’s not like they’re undefeated. They’re 6-3 and 1-3 on the road. Plus, their defense stinks. They play with effort, but Stanford has to make up a significant talent differential to beat the Trojans on the road in November.
Jim Harbaugh is doing exactly what I expected him to do at Stanford. I’m a huge believer in him as a head coach. He’s built them slowly with good line play and a tough running game, and now it’s finally paying off. If he actually stays at Stanford (which I don’t expect to happen more than another year or two), I think their trajectory is really headed upward.
If Michigan was smart, they’d cut the cord with Rodriguez after this year and make amends with Jim Harbaugh. Is there really a point in giving him another year or would it be better to just cut the cord now and move on like Kentucky did with Billy Gillespie?? Harbaugh would get Michigan back to playing Michigan football: hard nosed running game, big armed pro quarterbacks, good line play. He’d be the perfect fit, and he has the energy and NFL brand name to be a national recruiter like Michigan needs. His worst case scenario at Michigan would be Lloyd Carr, but I think his ceiling would be really high at Michigan.
Les Miles would be adequate, but is there really that much of a difference between Les Miles and Lloyd Carr?? Les would get them back to more of a Michigan identity, but is he the kind of guy who’s going to build them from the ashes back into a top 5 program?? Debateable. My guess would be no.
Amazing how big of a disaster ND and Michigan have become. Two schools with no plan and no identity.
USC 31 Stanford 17
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (ABC Sports 8pm)
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Simply because Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and a healthy Armando Allen will not allow the Irish to lose 2 games in a row. Add in a (hopefully) better-conditioned Michael Floyd and Pitt is going to have their hands full with the Irish attack. I'm not confident that ND will be able to
shut down the burgeoning Pitt offense, but I do think they can slow either the ground or the aerial attack. Dion Lewis has a surprisingly quiet day, but the Irish can't stop the Stull-Baldwin connection. Fortunately, Clausen's got some more magic in him and another 4th quarter comeback cements Jimmy's legacy as one of the best to ever take snaps under the Dome.
ND 38 Pitt 35
Dan: Pitt (to win outright)
No comment. It hurts too much still.
Earlier this week, Doug summed up my feelings towards the ND program this year. I know about a month ago I said it would be foolish to fire Weis, but that was before he went out and established a home losing streak to Navy and then threw Ian Williams under the bus. At this point, things can’t get any worse. If he hasn’t proven to be a winner by now, it’s not going to happen. I have no confidence that the administration will handle the coaching search well, but I’ll settle for anyone else at this point.
Pitt 38 ND 28
Mike: Pittsburgh (outright):
Despite last week’s debacle, I have decided to stick with my plan to attend the game, although more as a social event than for the game itself. Of course, it certainly will not surprise me if we win this game. With Tate and Floyd in the fold and Clausen at QB, we should be able to move the ball effectively against the Pittsburgh defense and I expect a better honest effort from the defense. Ultimately, the Panthers will prevail by making fewer mistakes and playing more physical than the finesse Irish, thus causing Charlie Weis’s coaching career, for all intents and purposes, to end on the same field where it began. But, hey, no worries: Notre Dame football is in the hands of very competent professionals who can be trusted to conduct an effective coaching sea…sorry, I just can’t finish this sentence, even in jest.
Pittsburgh 30 Notre Dame 27
Even though ND is reeling, I'm not sure what to make of this game. Part of me thinks that this game will resemble the 2008 BC game where we never show up to play and never really threaten, but part of me feels like we're in for some of dead cat bounce, ala ND winning on the road at Tennessee three games before Ty was fired in 2004. We've seen those kinds of rallying efforts before out of teams fighting for their embattled coach. I feel like Ron Zook pulled a few of those wins off in his Florida days over Georgia, and Al Groh seems to do it every year. The players circle the wagons and come out for one week like gangbusters against a team that might be overlooking them or overconfident or any other "over" adjective that describes a team that isn't ready to play.
Of course, we haven't really seen that type of rally out of a Weis team yet even though he's been under fire for three years. Once a Weis team goes into the tank, we go into that tank, baby!! The motto of Charlie Weis teams in November should be something along the lines of "If you're looking for the towels, we've already thrown them in." A home loss to Navy?? Ha, we can top that by getting blown out by Air Force the next week. Back to back demoralizing losses to Pitt and then BC?? Ehh, wait till you watch us lose at home to Syracuse and not get a first down against USC for three quarters. Maybe this team is going to really circle the wagons, but Weis' track record speaks for itself.
With that said, aren't guys like Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate and Michael Floyd getting sick of losing?? Do they really want to finish their college careers on a four game losing streak?? They came to ND to win a championship, and this game against Pitt might be their last chance to get a meaningful win in their college careers. Is Pitt a signature win?? Nah. They're a top 30 type program having a nice season, but we're talking about Pitt here. There's nothing particularly intimidating about going to Pitt. The crowd will probably be 40% ND fans, and that minority will probably sound like the majority. Pitt is every bit as beatable as Michigan State and Boston College.
ND is more than capable of winning this game, but it will depend on whether we're willing to go out and execute for 60 minutes. Corwin Brown and company lashed out at the media and tried to circle the wagons, but I'm past the point of buying into media statements. I've never seen a program throw out more nonsense through the media than this ND program under Charlie Weis. Our coaches talk like Vince Lombardi in the press conferences, but we haven't seen that reflect on the field at all.
Plus, why are we whining in the press about Navy?? This is what we've come to?? Complaining about how mean Navy is?? Does Navy complain in the media about the fact that our linemen weigh 70 pounds more than their linemen and how unfair that is?? Here's a novel concept. How about running it down their throats for 60 minutes and beating them 41-10?? Let's do that instead of complaining after the game about how Navy plays dirty. I know, crazy idea there.
Here's another idea. Instead of whining at the press conference four days later, why not respond right there on the field by beating them into the ground from that point on?? ND has a LOSER'S MENTALITY. I mentioned this earlier in the week, but this is what ND football has come to. Blaming the refs, whining about cheap shots, whining about other teams cheating, pointing to graduation rates, etc. We are always looking for something to blame instead of going out and winning ballgames. Boo hoo, these other teams aren't playing fair. Give me a break. WIN GAMES.
I think ND can win this game, but I'm not expecting it. I think we'll come out with a chip on our shoulder, but the question is whether we can sustain it. If things start going wrong, will we wilt like we have all year?? If Pitt makes adjustments, will we counter?? Being mentally tough is not just about getting pumped up. It's about staying focused and playing determined for 60 minutes.
I expect a close game, but I can't help but feel like this Irish team is falling apart to some degree.
Pitt 27 ND 21
Wake Forest -4.5
Tears will be flowing at BB&T Field as Riley Skinner wraps up his seemingly endless home career and I wrap up my two year Wake Forest football experience. The once mighty ‘Noles come into town, and I really don’t see them beating the Deacs on Senior Day. Look for Skinner to have a near career day against the punchless Seminoles D that appears to have put a 42 cent stamp on the rest of this season. I might sneak in a “Bobby Don’t Go” sign into the student section. One interesting fact from this game – Wake can become only the 3rd team ever and first ACC team to beat Bobby Bowden four straight years. If that doesn’t tell you how terrible of a job Bowden is doing, I don’t know what does. Wake probably has the worst talent in the ACC and they are going to beat FSU 4 years in a row.
Wake Forest 40 FSU 24
In Lane Kiffin I Trust
Tennessee 19 Ole Miss 16
Can’t believe we’re not picking the game of the week! Doesn’t this line seem REALLY high? I mean, I know TCU is good and all, but 20 points to a solid Utah team? Give me the Utes in a cover and there will be some anxious moments in Fort Worth. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say Kyle Whittingham and the road Utes pull off the shocker and upset the Frogs.
Utah 17 TCU 14
Wisconsin (-8.5) over Michigan: Losing to Michigan is a stronger basis to fire Weis than losing to Navy. The Wolverines are terrible.
Indiana (+26.5) over Penn State: Indiana has been a reliable underdog play all year and I don’t expect anything different against the Nittany Lions, who have been exposed as a total fraud.
NC State (+8) over Clemson: I actually like the money line here. With a home date against Virginia on the horizon, this is Clemson’s last real hurdle on the way to an ACC Championship birth. Given Clemson’s history, it’s rather safe to assume that they’ll screw it up.
Kansas State (Pick) over Missouri: I thought that Bill Snyder was a bad (re)hire for KSU, but he has done a remarkable job in Manhattan this year. Missouri, meanwhile, lost to Baylor last week. At home.
Arizona State (+17) over Oregon: ASU should be able to hang close to Oregon, which may be suffering from a hangover, on the strength of its aggressive defense.
Bengals +7.5 at the Steelers -- Not sure if people realize just how well the Bengals are positioned in the AFC North race right now. 4-0 in the division with a home game against the Browns still coming, 6-2 overall, and four games against absolute dregs still left on the schedule (KC, Detroit, Cleveland, at Oakland). It's weird to say this after only 8 games, but the Bengals are in firm control of their destiny in the AFC North right now. Barring some sort of major collapse, they are a borderline lock for 10 wins and likely to get to 11 if they can win one more. An 11-5 Bengal team with a 5-1 record in the division is going to be like the golfer at the US Open who goes to the clubhouse at +1 after 72 holes on a brutal day where the other golfers ahead of him are going to need to play exceptional golf to beat him.
That's where I'd put the Steelers right now. The Steelers are still the Steelers, and I think you could make a strong argument that they are still the best team in the NFL this year, especially now that Troy Polamalu is back (more on that later). But they sort of need to make a monster run from here on out to blow past the Bengals. The Steelers still have to play two big rivalry games with the Ravens. If they lose one of those and end up 11-5 with a 4-2 division record, the Bengals could be your division champs. Could the Steelers run off 7 wins in their next 8 games and finish 13-3 or 12-4?? Of course!! They're the Steelers. But 1-2 slip-ups along the way, and the Bengals actually have some serious tiebreaker mojo working for them right now. With a sweep of the Ravens and that win over the Steelers already in their pocket, the Bengals have done a lot of heavy lifting already.
Who's the better team here?? Cmon, let's not kid ourselves. Pittsburgh. The Bengals were very fortunate (ok, lucky) to beat the Steelers at home in week 3, but Pittsburgh was in control of that game for 3 quarters. It's an entirely different battle going to Heinz Field. For my money, Heinz Field is the best home field advantage in the league. That place is a house of horrors for visiting teams. Count on a 95 yard interception return for a touchdown, a special teams touchdown for Pittsburgh, or some other wacky game-changing play that just always seems to happen there. The Steelers always seem to reach down and find some magic when they need it in that stadium. Extremely tough place to win.
The other thing is that Troy Polamalu is now back. Troy was out for the game in week 3, and it made a huge difference in the Bengals' passing game. Without him in there, Chad and friends can run wild over the middle. With Troy back, he snuffs all that out. He's the best defensive player in the league and one of the 5 or so best defensive players in the modern era of football if you ask me. When he retires, he'll go down as the greatest safety of all time without question.
Here's my list of the 6 best defensive players I've ever watched:
1) Lawrence Taylor
2) Troy Polamalu
3) Ray Lewis
4) Reggie White
5) Deion Sanders
6) Bruce Smith
He's the most difficult guy to game plan around since LT in my opinion. There's just nothing you can do to keep him in check. At any point, he can take over the game.
Carson Palmer and the boys are going to have their work cut out for them. This game comes down to turnovers and winning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. If the Bengals can run the ball and let Carson make plays and get pressure on Roethlisberger, I think they have a shot. I don't expect to win this game, but I think they can cover the 7.5 points.
New England +2.5 over the Indianapolois Colts --
Man, does it get any bigger in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE than week 9 of the regular season?? We got Bengals-Steelers, Pats-Colts, Packers-'Boys. HEAVYWEIGHTS!! This is the first time in years where I am genuinely more excited about the NFL games on Sunday than the college games on Saturday. I'm going to be hightailing it back to Columbus on Sunday morning from Pittsburgh to make it in time for the 1pm Steelers-Bengals kickoff.
Is it required by law that the Colts and Pats meet every year right around week 9?? It's almost as if they promised to each other last year that they'd both finish second in their divisions to ensure another matchup this year.
NBC is going to get a huge rating for this one. They might make more money off this game than they did off the entire Notre Dame football season. Maybe I'm just bitter, but the 2009 college football season has been a disappointment. Too many mediocre programs in the top 10, not a lot of compelling games, and the power teams really haven't had too many big time games. The middle of the SEC and Big 12 has come up small in providing good tests for Florida, Bama, and Texas. The ACC is a disaster, the Big Ten has a credibility problem, no one takes the Big East teams seriously, and USC is out of it. I'm bored with what we have left on the schedule the next few weeks. I love football, but my ability/desire to watch football is not open-ended. Every week, I feel myself paying more and more attention to the NFL slate, and this is the first week where I really feel like my renewed interest in the NFL is coming at the expense of college football.
I don't know what to make of this game. It seems like Belichick likes to hide things in his regular season matchups with the Colts in case they meet in the playoffs again, but we haven't really seen Jim Caldwell in a big game yet. Plus, the Colts have been sort of skating by with some close wins over Houston and the Niners and have had all sorts of injury issues (Sanders, Gonzo, etc). The Colts are good, but make a run at 16-0 good?? Not sure.
Just feels like the Pats are going to put on one of those "you didn't think we were going away, did you?" performances with Brady and Belichick doing what they do best. New England has been a surprisingly quiet story this year with all the focus on the Saints and Favre, but they know that a big win in Indy vaults them back to the top of the picture in the AFC. Plus, this is a key game in terms of home field advantage and all that. You know the Pats want those January playoff games in Foxboro, and they'd be all but out of that race if they lose to Indy (especially with a road game at New Orleans in a few weeks).
I've enjoyed the last 14 months or so of the Pats being off the radar, but I have a feeling everyone is going to be sniffing their jocks on Monday morning.
Wisconsin -8.5 over Michigan - And we think ND football is in rough shape?? Michigan is driving 100 mph over a cliff right now. The longer they stay with Rich Rodriguez, the more difficult it will be for them to dig themselves out of the hole. Then again, maybe Rich Rodriguez explodes in year three. I'm not sure I see it. I see a Billy Gillespie situation here. If your program is really heading somewhere, you don't lose a home game to Purdue in week 10.
Michigan State -2.5 at Purdue -- Interesting game here. Sparty has to be one of the best 5-5 teams in the nation, if not the best. They've been pretty resilient, and I could see them winning their last two games over Purdue and Penn State to get to 7-5. Dantonio is
Utah +19.5 vs. TCU -- Can't believe we forgot to preview this game. Utah is a 19.5 dog?? Wow, I gotta take those points.
Locks of the Week: