So much going on off the field right now that it's hard to even remember that there are still two games left in this season. Could be the last time we see Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate in Notre Dame Stadium as teammates. And of course, could be the last time Charlie Weis takes the field at home as ND's head coach.
On to the picks:
Ohio State -13 at Michigan (ABC Sports 12pm)
Jeremy: Ohio State -13
Don’t have a whole lot of confidence in this one. Last week against Iowa, Tressel slowed the pace of that game down to a crawl and basically went into a shell for the 2nd half. He could very well do something similar this week against Michigan. The Wolverines have been getting gouged on defense lately and there’s really nothing to suggest that this will be remedied before the weekend. I know its not realistic to think that he could be fired after this game, but if Michigan is trounced again by the Buckeyes, its going to start getting very hot under Rich Rod’s collar.
OSU 31 Michigan 17
Dan: Ohio State -13
Ohio State is easily two touchdowns better than Michigan. But I would hate to see Tressel go conservative on the road and just play to win by 6. I think that Michigan has basically packed it in at this point and Ohio State pulls off a close cover on a couple timely turnovers.
Ohio State 24 Michigan 10
Matt: Ohio State -13
Florida and Alabama are taking the week off, so I am too. Just picks this week and a few thoughts on ND potential coaches…
Ohio State 34 Michigan 10
Mike: Ohio State (-13):
I am tempted, though not seriously, to cheer for Michigan in the hopes that a Wolverine victory will secure another year for Rich Rodriguez, who is proving to be a terrible fit in Ann Arbor. Although Ohio State has already clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl, Jim Tressel has always prioritized this rivalry and he should have his team ready to play. Look for the Buckeyes to amplify the growing chorus of calls for Rodriguez’s ouster by defeating the reeling Wolverines with ease.
Ohio State 31 Michigan 14
Doug: Michigan +13
Buckeye fans, I know you're upset about the way the Buckeyes won that game over Iowa, but wins are wins. Sure it's ugly, but you can't really take away the fact that The Vest wins games. That's what he does. Tressel Ball isn't fun or exciting, but Tressel seems to have it down to a science. Even though that game got hairy in the fourth quarter and going into overtime, it never really felt like Ohio State wasn't in control of the situation.
Is that frustrating?? Yea, of course. I would be furious if my coach sat on a lead and ran the ball up the middle ten times in a row and seemed to be ready to punt on 3rd down of every drive. It's not a very aesthetically pleasing style of football at all.
But here's my question: Would you rather be 10-2 and winning Big Ten titles every year with Tressel Ball or 6-6 with a more exciting offense?? Then again, you could argue that you'd prefer a 10-2 team that wins the Big Ten AND has an exciting offense, and I would agree with you. But you can't really argue with Tressel's record. All the guy has done since he's been at Ohio State is win.
This begs the question though. Does Ohio State win because of Tressel or in spite of Tressel?? I think you could make an argument for both. Ohio State had exciting teams in the 90s under John Cooper, but those teams always choked against Michigan. Tressel does seem to have added something on that front with his record against Michigan and in the Big Ten in general.
Then again, I almost wonder if there are 20 coaches out there who could be doing what Jim Tressel is doing at Ohio State these days. Ohio State is so far and away the best program in the Big Ten in terms of money, talent, facilities, commitment, stability, etc. No one else is really on their level anymore, and their success as a program comes from a lot of factors that go well beyond the head coach in my opinion. If that's the case, why couldn't Ohio State have a coach who not only wins games but also produces exciting teams that would stand a better chance of competing nationally??
Isn't part of Tressel's success just that the Big Ten is so freaking awful these days?? Tressel has been very fortunate that Michigan has been down for most of his tenure, Wisconsin has tailed off, Penn State has Joe Pa running the show, and Illinois has been a disaster for the most part. The Big Ten is losing the demographic battle by the busload, and a lot of these programs just aren't coming back to what they once were.
I look at Ohio State's season and wonder if there's really that much pride about winning another Big Ten title when they lost AT HOME to a USC team that has lost three games and really has turned out to be not all that great. Ohio State had them at home and couldn't muster up more than 15 points. Tressel is so concerned with playing not to lose that he doesn't even see that he could have come out with an aggressive game plan and maybe blown USC out. USC was more than capable of being blown out by a good team this year. And yet Ohio State played that game with a strategy to win 10-7. It makes me wonder if a more aggressive coach would have won that game for the Buckeyes and possibly by a wide margin.
Certainly will be interesting to see what the Buckeyes do in the Rose Bowl. If they get paired up against Oregon, Tressel better come out with an aggressive game plan or they're going to get run off the field. It's one thing to lose to teams like Florida or LSU. But Oregon?? Definitely would make for another interesting offseason.
Michigan....plenty to discuss on them, but I'll hold off on that for a week or two. Put it this way. I absolutely believe that there could be a new head coach in Ann Arbor next year.
Ohio State 27 Michigan 20
Penn State -3.5 at Michigan State (ABC Sports 3:30pm)
Jeremy: MSU (+3.5)
Have no idea what to think about this game. Penn State hasn’t done anything of note, and the Spartans have underachieved all year. That said, MSU is fighting for bowl position here so they certainly have a bit more on the line. Add in the home cooking and I’ll take Sparty to pull off a mini-upset here.
MSU 24 PSU 23
Dan: Penn State -3.5
This game seems to tend towards being a surprisingly close game more often than not. And Penn State has struggled the past 2 weeks. I think they are due for a little bit of a bounce back game. Look for Daryll Clark to have another big game against the Spartans, while at the same time MSU struggles to hold Royster.
Penn State 31 Michigan State 17
Matt: Penn State -3.5
Penn State 24 Michigan State 13
Mike: Michigan State (+3.5):
From a motivation standpoint, this game means much more to the Spartans, who must win to guarantee a trip to a bowl, than the visiting Nittany Lions. Penn State is the better team, but I suspect that they won’t be particularly interested in playing this game, even though the winner gets to keep the coveted Land Grant Trophy.
Michigan State 24 Penn State 21
Doug: Michigan State +3.5
Really like how Michigan State is trying to finish strong this year. Beating Penn State this week would really give them a ton of momentum heading into 2010. Good young core of skill guys in East Lansing.
Penn State's playing for a possible BCS bowl birth if they win this game. Really?? My god, there are going to be some awful BCS games this year. What is Penn State's best win this year?? Michigan??
Penn State in the BCS is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with college football right now. You can somehow get to 10 wins without beating anyone with a pulse.
Michigan State 21 Penn State 20
Cal +8 at Stanford (Versus 7:30pm)
Jeremy: Cal (+8)
I really don’t mean to look down my nose at the Cardinal or Harbaugh, but can they possibly get up for another big game this week? I know this is a huge rivalry for them, but there’s got to be some letdown coming off perhaps the two biggest wins in school history, right? If Stanford does pull this one out, I’ll be mighty impressed.
Cal 27 Stanford 24
Dan: Cal +8
Could their possibly be a bigger formula for a let-down game? Trouncing two top 10 teams (including the last one at USC) in a row followed by a return trip home? Stanford is definitely overdue for a hiccup. Hopefully my co-writer (after he writes another 2500 words supporting his Stanford – 8 pick) will come to realize Harbaugh is not the answer after Cal brings them back to earth).
Cal 31 Stanford 27
Matt: Cal +8
Stanford 30 Cal 24
Mike: California (+8)- LOCK OF THE WEEK:
Stanford is on an incredible run, but I am leery about overrating the Cardinal by allowing the last few weeks to outweigh the rest of the season. In addition, Cal delivered its most impressive win of the season last week against Arizona, so the Bears should not be regarded as a pushover, even without Jahvid Best. These two teams are relatively evenly matched from a talent standpoint and there is a possible letdown angle at play with respect to Stanford. Accordingly, I will call for an outright upset for the visiting Bears.
California 26 Stanford 24
Doug: Cal +8
Hmmm, I've been hyping up Jim Harbaugh, so it's probably fitting that Stanford will lay an egg this week against Cal. Two pretty emotional wins for the Card over Oregon and USC. Can they dial it up again against Cal?? 8 points seem like a lot in a rivalry game.
Then again, Tiger Woods is getting inducted into the Stanford Hall of Fame this weekend and is going to be an honorary captain for the game. Who wouldn't run through a wall for Tiger Woods?? By the way, how did it take this long to induct Tiger Woods into the Stanford Hall of Fame?? They should have inducted him ten minutes after Jim Nantz said "A WIN FOR THE AGES!"
Jeff Tedford is another guy I could see ND being interested in. No clue what his status is at Cal, but he'd be sort of a natural fit in terms of continuing a pro style philosophy and being able to recruit California.
Either way, I can't wait to tune in to Versus on Saturday to watch this game. I'll go with Stanford to keep the momentum going, but could easily see Cal outright winning this game. Cal is still a dangerous team that could be catching Stanford at the right time.
Stanford 31 Cal 28
Louisiana State +3 at Ole Miss (CBS Sports 3:30pm)
Jeremy: LSU (+3)
I know the Tigers are banged up and I know the Rebs just ran all over the Vols, but LSU has better material and better coaching. In the SEC in November, that’s good enough for me.
LSU 20 Ole Miss 17
Dan: LSU +3
Have to admit, the mediocrity in the middle of the SEC has caused me not to follow it as closely this year. But I’m still not a Jevan Snead believer, and I think the LSU defense can win this game even without the offence.
LSU 10 Ole Miss 7
Matt: LSU +3
LSU 20 Ole Miss 12
Mike: Louisiana State (+3):
It is unclear whether Jordan Jefferson will be available for LSU, who missed last week’s game with an ankle injury and was replaced by an ineffective Jarrett Lee. Nonetheless, the Bayou Bengals have thrived this season on the strength of their defense, rather than the play of Jefferson, so his availability is not a major factor in my analysis. Unlike Tennessee last week, LSU should be able to slow down Dexter McCluster and force Jevan Snead to make his usual share of mistakes. LSU has flown under the radar for its boring offense all season, but they keep finding ways to win. This week will be no different.
LSU 22 Ole Miss 17
Doug: Ole Miss -3 -- LOCK OF THE WEEK
Ole Miss is suddenly red hot with Dexter McCluster turning into the new Percy Harvin. Just a hunch here, but I think Ole Miss comes out like gangbusters and rolls LSU.
Les Miles....tough spot right now. He's almost gotta win this game to hang his hat on something in 2009. Life is tough in the SEC, but fans at LSU want to see some signs that this program is still on the right path. If they get blown out by Ole Miss, I almost feel like Les' seat might be a little warm heading into the offseason. To be honest, that's exactly what I see happening here. There's a feeling that the LSU program is slipping.
Florida and Alabama have sort of lapped the field and distanced themselves from the rest of the SEC. For an LSU fan, that's a tough pill to swallow when you consider all of their success this decade. They really aren't in the same category right now as Florida and Alabama. And the scary part is that the train is coming down in Knoxville and Fayetteville. Two programs on the rise that could really start making noise.
I almost feel like the SEC is like one of those pie charts where everyone is fighting for their percentage. The success of one program is going to come at the expense of another program. Now that Alabama has turned into a juggernaut, they are eating into LSU's success.
Miles must curse every night that Nick Saban is back in the SEC. Saban is only in his third year, and he's already eclipsed Les Miles and doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon. As long as Saban is Alabama, they are going to be the premier program in the SEC West.
Ole Miss 28 LSU 17
Oregon -4 at Arizona (ABC Sports 8pm)
Jeremy: Oregon (-4) – LOCK OF THE WEEK
Don’t have much to say about this one since I haven’t had the opportunity to see much of Arizona this year. But look for Oregon to rebound from the shocking loss to Stanford to try and position themselves for the Pac-10 title.
Oregon 30 Arizona 21
Dan: Oregon -4 at Arizona
Oregon took out its frustration last week against Arizona State and now gets to repeat against Arizona. Arizona doesn’t have the horses to hang with Oregon. Look for the Ducks to pull away late.
Oregon 28 Arizona 20
Matt: Oregon -4 LOCK OF THE WEEK
Oregon 38 Arizona 33
Mike: Oregon (-4):
Despite recent losses, both of these two teams are still in the mix for a Rose Bowl berth and their respective track records suggest that this will be an exciting contest. Jeremiah Masoli and Nick Foles will both light up the scoreboard in Tucson before the visiting Ducks eventually claim victory in a closely contested affair.
Oregon 45 Arizona 38
Doug: Arizona +4
Beano Cook is picking Arizona here, but Oregon controls their own destiny here for the Rose Bowl. Would love to see an Ohio State-Oregon Rose Bowl game, but Arizona is pretty good this year. Guess I never should have doubted a man with the last name Stoops to build a program. I'll go with the home team to pull the upset.
Arizona 37 Oregon 31
Connecticut at Notre Dame (NBC Sports 2:30pm)
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Every bone in my body says I should be picking the Huskies this weekend. Weis is a dead man walking and I think just about everyone, including his players, knows it. HOWEVA, given that there is a very good chance that this game will represent the last home game for Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen, I think the offense will put up some serious fireworks (despite Weis’ playcalling) on what should be a very nice day in South Bend, weather-wise. UCONN will certainly hang tough, as they’ve done all year, but Jimmy has too much pride to go out the way the 2008 team did.
ND 34 UCONN 27
Dan: ND to win (UConn +7.5)
I really don’t want to talk about this team much anymore. It has been a heart-breaking season. I really wanted Weis to succeed. I wanted to Weis to be the next Valvano / Williams / etc. (albeit – far less likable by the generally public) coach to take his alma mater to the promised land.
That said, who have we beaten by 8 points? I think this will be close late, but Tate and Clausen get us over the hump.
ND 24 UConn 21
As Doug and others have said before, the goal of this coaching search should be to find the NEXT Urban Meyer or Bob Stoops, because those guys more than likely aren’t coming. Of course they should get the first phone calls, and a boatload of money and more control of the program should be promised to them, but they have zero reason to come to ND.
Here’s a name for people to consider: Al Golden. Most casual ND fans probably don’t even know who he is, but if you really follow college football or are from Philly, both of which I am, you know how good of a coach he is. He is the head coach of Temple, and currently has his team in first place in the MAC. Big deal right? It’s the MAC. Well here are the records of the Owls before he got there:
That is 3-31 in the last three years leading up to his hire. He went 1-11 in his first year, then 4-8 and 5-7 and now has Temple at 8-2. That is a miracle. That is already the most wins in a year since the infamous ’79 team won 10 and went to the Garden State Bowl. He has coached defense under George Welsh, Tom O’Brien, Al Groh and Joe Paterno. Not bad. And I can’t emphasize what an 8 win season means at Temple. Here are the recruiting rankings he has been working with:
Temple is an impossible school to recruit to. It’s a commuter school in a pro sports / Penn State town in a terrible section of town without its own football facilities and with no tradition. To me, that just adds to what Golden has been able to do.
Anyway, I know that hiring Al Golden would be a wildly unpopular decision among the ND community, but he is the type of candidate that Jack Swarbrick should be doing incredibly diligent research on. Sure, I would love Urban, but I don’t think he’s coming, and Al Golden could very well be the next Urban. It’s a high risk but potentially high reward. And if he goes to UVA next year and is wildly successful, that’s it. He’s not leaving. Sometimes you have to take a chance and grab a guy and bet your future on him.
Some other names that I would hope that Swarbrick is at least kicking the tires on: Will Muschamp, Paul Johnson, Charlie Strong, Greg Schiano. Some names that I hope Swarbrick is not kicking the tires on: Pat Fitzgerald, Mark Dantonio, Jeff Jagodzinski. I’m curious to hear anyone’s thoughts, and as I said, I know the prevailing thought will be “why the hell would Notre Dame hire the coach of Temple.” You know, other than the fact that he was able to coach up the Owls and actually beat the mighty Midshipmen this year. Well, first, I think ND and their fans needs to lose some of the arrogance and sense of entitlement. Sure, ND is still ND to us, but let’s face it. We haven’t even been a mediocre football program in the last 10 years. Nick Saban isn’t walking through those doors. And while Golden may not be my first choice, I think he’s a young guy who learned football at the knee of some really good coaches and has done the impossible at a former coach’s graveyard in Temple. All I’m saying is Swarbrick should at least be doing a little research on the guy.
UConn 30 ND 27
Mike: Connecticut (outright):
Emotions should be running high in South Bend on Saturday, as the visiting Huskies will again attempt to win a game for their slain teammate, Jasper Howard. One might presume that Senior Day will provide ample motivation for Notre Dame as well, although last year’s embarrassment against Syracuse proved that one should never underestimate Charlie Weis’s ability to ensure that his team plays flat, uninspired football. Anyway, the physical Huskies should run the ball effectively against the Irish defense and, despite his prior struggles, Zach Frazer will likely have a big game in his return to Notre Dame Stadium, which will again live up to its reputation as a very welcoming place for visiting teams. On that note, my sources indicate that, pursuant to a new initiative from Father Jenkins and Father Poorman, both teams will sing each other’s alma mater after the game, attend Mass together and then sign Kumbaya all night long. Campus Ministry also intends to serve orange slices cut in ND and Connecticut logos to all fans, which is a nice touch.
Connecticut 31 Notre Dame 28
The sense that I got from this team after the Navy game was that we'd lose out and finish 6-6, and I saw nothing against Pitt to change my mind on that. UConn will probably come out sky high looking to get their signature win and a win for their murdered teammate, ND will be either moping or sleepwalking, the crowd will be lifeless, and yada yada yada.....Randy Edsall will be showing up on message boards on Monday in connection with the ND head coaching job. If UConn beats us, is there any doubt that happens??
Last home game possibly for Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. Both should go pro, but you never know what will happen. For my money, Jimmy Clausen is the best QB I've seen at ND, and Golden Tate is one of the top 5 all-around players I've seen at ND. Tate is the most electrifying player we've had in over 15 years. I will miss seeing those guys in an ND uniform if they go pro.
UConn 27 ND 24
Kansas State +16.5 over Nebraska: This is simply too many points to lay on an anemic Nebraska offense. KSU looked terrible at home last week, but Bill Snyder should right the ship this week in Lincoln.
Houston -23.5 over Memphis: An explosive offense versus a terrible team with a lame duck coach? Sounds like a recipe for an easy cover if I’ve ever heard one.
Iowa -10 over Minnesota: Minnesota’s offense hasn’t done anything aside from the MSU game and I don’t expect this week to be any different against a stout Hawkeye defense in Iowa City.
Kansas +28 over Texas: Despite its long losing streak, I still have a hunch that Todd Reesing and company will muster up one more strong performance. The Jayhawks will make Longhorn fans sweat this week before eventually succumbing.
Virginia +20.5 over Clemson: I predicted that Clemson would choke last week and, of course, I was dead wrong. For some reason, I still think that the Tigers will get a strong test this week from a Virginia team that is much more competitive with Jameel Sewell in the lineup.
Oakland +9 vs. the Bengals -- First, I know people have been scratching their heads all week about this Larry Johnson signing by the Bengals, but it was almost a necessary move for this team. Cedric Benson is on pace to have the 7th most carries of all time in an NFL season right now. That's absurd. The Bengals need to get this guy some rest, or he's going to have nothing left at the end of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if they sat him down for a couple weeks with Oakland, Cleveland, and Detroit coming up the next few weeks and just turned things over to Bernard Scott and Larry Johnson. From a football standpoint, this move had to be done. The Bengals are going to need Ced Benson if they want to make some noise in the playoffs, and he's going to be done by week 13 if they don't figure out a way to scale back his carries. He's already banged up with a bad hip, and he has no history of being able to carry the load for 16 games at any point in his career. In the NFL today, you cannot have your starting running back carrying the ball 30+ times a game in a 16 week NFL season.
The other thing is that Bernard Scott is a rookie who is inevitably going to hit the wall. If he runs out of steam, you've got no one backing up Benson. LJ is an insurance policy. You can get him 3-5 carries a game and maybe give him a start against somebody like Cleveland or Detroit (or both) to rest Benson and Scott. The Bengals don't have any reason to try to protect LJ, so they can throw him in whenever and make him pound the ball between the tackles.
The other thing is that the Bengals don't seem to care about character at all, and it hasn't really hurt them. Look at all the "questionable character" guys already on this roster. Tank Johnson, Chris Henry, Frostee Rucker, Ced Benson, even Chad Johnson, and yet Marvin Lewis seems to have a handle on it and even seems to be fine with bringing in another shaky guy.
The Bengals subscribe to the "he's got one last chance to have an NFL career" theory, and it makes sense to some degree. A guy like Larry Johnson knows that he's out of the NFL if he turns into a team cancer with the Bengals. The Bengals owe him nothing, so they can cut him the next day if he's a distraction. The Bengals have all the leverage in the relationship, and LJ knows it. He better come in with a team attitude and keep his head on straight or he's out of the NFL. Pretty strong motivation.
Everyone acts like you need to have good character guys to win in the NFL, but I don't really buy it. You win with talent and coaching. The Bengals are winning this year because they have good players in their front seven and two great corners, and because they finally have a good defensive coordinator. Tank Johnson might be a jerk off the field, but he's a darn good defensive tackle on the field.
My guess is that LJ will hit the ground running in a supporting role and stay under the radar off the field. He has no other choice. He's not a star anymore, and he knows that he's one screw up away from being an ex-NFL player.
In terms of Sunday, this game makes me nervous. I know it's Oakland, but west coast road trips always scare me . Oakland is frisky at home, and now they have Gradkowski starting over Jamarcus Russsell. If Gradkowski does anything in the early going, it might give that whole team a shot of life. The Raiders beat Philly at home a month ago under similar circumstances.
Bengals coming off back to back monster wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Can't let down this week in Oakland. If they don't show up to play, it's going to be a dogfight. Find a way to get this win and they have smooth sailing to 10-2 and a big showdown in Minnesota with the Vikes. I don't care if it's a 1 point win. Just find a way to come back from Oakland with a W.
Northwestern +6 over Wisky -- Pat Fitzgerald "rejected" ND?? GOOD!! That's the best news I've heard all week. You would have been a worse hire than Willingham and probably would have caused me to join the Alabama Booster's Club the next day, so thank you for "rejecting" us.
Indiana +3.5 over Purdue -- It's too bad the Hoosiers didn't hold on in one of those 4th quarter collapses. They'd be playing for a bowl this week. IU is a much better team than their record this year.
Florida -43 over Florida International -- Doesn't this game sum up why the 2009 college football season has been the worst college football season that I can remember?? It's late November and Florida is playing FIU and Alabama is playing Chattanooga. Ugh. There have been very few compelling college football games this year.
NCAA, for the love of god, institute some mandatory nonconference scheduling policies already. These 8 home game football schedules loaded with I-AA teams are killing the sport. Either make everyone play 9 league games or create some sort of BCS conference scheduling rotation. Enough with all the lousy games.
Locks of the Week: