October 27, 2011

Notre Dame vs. Navy - Back to Boot Camp

Dan: Notre Dame
There is no point in dwelling any longer on last week’s debacle. I feel like I’ve been emotionally hungover ever since. The Middies come to town this weekend looking to make it three in a row over Notre Dame, yet Vegas has them somewhere around three touchdown dogs. You can throw the line out against Navy. Complicating things is a lack of depth due to injuries along the Notre Dame defensive front (KLM out and EJ still not at 100%). The young guns need to step up and I have not seen discipline as a strength of theirs yet. Saturday will be telling. Cierre needs to bounce back and Kelly needs to feed him and Jonas early and often. I think the ND running game bounces back and puts up enough points, limits turnovers, and enables ND to get a win despite a subpar day from the defense.
Notre Dame 31 Navy 20
Jeremy: Notre Dame
I really don't have the heart to talk too much about last week's performance.  Still a bit shocked that the lads come out so flat/tight/whatever and got themselves pushed around in the trenches.  In past years, losing both starting DEs in the weeks leading up to the Navy game would terrify me to no end.  But I'm not feeling particularly frightened about this year's version of the Middies.  There's no more Ricky Dobbs to crush our souls, and the Mids have been experiencing ND-type fortune in close games.  I expect this one to look quite a bit like the AFA game - a few turnovers from Navy, and a porous Midshipmen defense leads to lots of ND points in the 1st half.  ND wins comfortably heading into the ACC tastycake portion of the schedule.
ND 45  Navy 28 
Jimmy: Notre Dame
Another week, another chance to cure this lethal strain of turnoveritis that’s plaguing the 2011 campaign.  With all of their toes and fingers shot off courtesy of self-inflicted wounds, what’s left for the offense to take aim at?  Unfortunately, they’ll need a clean game to avoid another loss to the Middies.  Want two scoops of humility with your breakfast?  Since the record streak that started in 1964 ended with dramatic fashion in 2007, Navy has captured 3 of the last 4 series contests.  From 43 straight to 1-3, in the midst of a streak going the wrong way.  How times have changed.  
This should be another Air Force type blowout, but the team’s confidence is shaken, the run D is in shambles without KLM and a gimpy Ethan Johnson, and the breaks simply aren’t falling ND’s way.  Here’s hoping The Andrew Hendrix Experience gets more stage time Saturday.  I’m growing a little stale of Tommy Rees’ act.  Heaven forbid 2 more years of heart-pounding red zone possessions.  
Irish 43  Navy 24
Mike: Navy
In my mind, the season is over, so I really don’t feel like wasting much time on this game.  Given the spread (19 points) and the fact that the Mids have a backup QB making his first career start, Notre Dame should win easily.  We all know how that often turns out for ND though.  
I’ll probably just sit at home, watch the game on mute and listen to a continuous loop of “Crazy Train.”
Navy 28 Notre Dame 24
Phil: Notre Dame
Thank goodness for a magnificent day of tailgating last weekend with great friends and family because the football was atrocious. I simply cannot figure out this Irish team. The comments by Mark Tyler and company have not helped anything either.
I don't think BK has gotten "dumb" over the past 2 years, as he has been a winner everywhere he has gone.   We seem to have talent, but whenever we play a big time team, our guys seem slow and overmatched. I have grown tired of the theory that we cannot recruit top tier players to the Bend, as it appears BK has been in the running for some real studs last year and this year. Maybe we just are not there yet. Crist is dumpster fire and I'm glad he is leaving. Rees is quite limited physically, but I applaud his gumption. I hope Hendrix or Gholston becomes a playmaker, b/c we need one at the QB spot badly.
By the way, were was our run game Saturday? Jonas had a nice run, but I think we had only 41 yards for the game. Navy has been a thorn in our side lately, and we will need a strong defensive effort and a sharp offensive performance to keep this season from coming unglued. I wanna believe.
Irish 31 Navy 21

October 26, 2011

WeIs Roundtable Week 9 Picks: Chaos Aftermath Edition

Chaos struck in Week 8.  Unlike lightning, it struck in multiple places - Norman and Madison experienced 3rd degree burns that may have caused irreparable damage.  Morgantown and Champaign required a healthy application of burn cream to already singed appendages.  How many more unbeatens time is up this week?  We cover two below as well as two other games of interest.  And if you're still in a dark place from Saturday's disappointment in South Bend, just look forward to next Saturday's primetime affair.  The hype in Tuscaloosa will reach absurd levels, so it garners at least an early mention.  Curious what the line might be come Monday.  At the risk of drawing LSU fans ire again, I'll guess Alabama's favored by 5 points.  Any other guesses, add to the comments.  The picks...

Stanford (-9) @ USC
Dan: Stanford (-9)
It was a brutal week for me last week in the picks. I didn’t feel confident with them and the results showed. It is time to bounce back this week. We all know what happened last Saturday night in South Bend, but don’t expect that to carry over. Stanford’s has established themselves as one of, if not the, most physical outside of LSU/Alabama in my mind. They will not be pushed around like the rag doll Irish were last week. I also expect Luck to have to have success against the USC secondary, which went largely untested last week. Stanford continues their dominant performance ATS.

Stanford 38 USC 27
Jeremy: Stanford (-9)
I'd really like to think that USC just needed the wake-up call that a night game in South Bend provided, but I still don't think they're all that great.  I was extremely impressed with the Cardinal's win last week against Washington, and I'm getting a little nervous that the Thanksgiving weekend matchup in Palo Alto is going to be a bloodbath.  Andrew Luck makes his first big Heisman case this weekend in LA.
Stanford 41  USC 28 
Jimmy: Stanford (-9)
The Cardinal flat out eviscerated Washington, rumbling for 446 yards on the ground.  Feel free to imagine how helpless a defense has to be against a pro-style offense that gashes them for a 10 yard average (Irish fans are already starting to get indigestion thinking about that Thanksgiving attack).  USC probably feels pretty good about their South Bend trip and have a false sense of confidence going back to the Colosseum.  Andrew Luck has averaged 46 points on the Trojans the last two years (both wins), and this might be his best offense yet.  He hasn’t been called on for any late game theatrics this season as no game has been within 3 touchdowns.  That trend should end this week, but I still think Stanford pulls away by a comfortable margin.
Stanford 48  USC 29
Mike: Stanford (-9)
At several moments during last week’s debacle unfold at Notre Dame Stadium, I remarked loudly (to no one in particular) that Stanford and Oregon would both annihilate USC this year.  Although I have sobered up since making those statements, my viewpoint has not changed.  Stanford, unlike Notre Dame, will commit to running the ball on the heels of last week’s 446 yard ground explosion, which will allow them to wear down the Trojans’ defensive front.  In addition, the physical Cardinal defense will be much more effective against the USC running game and Matt Barkley.  The best player in college football also happens to wear a Stanford helmet, which never hurts.  Look for another Stanford thrashing of USC at the Coliseum.
Stanford 47 USC 17
Phil: USC (+9)
Had the Irish taken care of business last week and won that game handily, as they should, this would be a steal, as I think Stanford would have won going away. But now, USC is looking like a good team after they manhandled the Irish and I think that they can give Stanford a game. If USC does truly have a chance, they will have to get pressure on Luck. The other key is getting Woods the ball in the open field (Jeez we made him look fast)! I am gonna say USC gives Stanford a game, and that thrashing doesn't make the Irish look so bad. 
Stanford 31 USC 27
Oklahoma (-13.5) @ Kansas State
Dan: Kansas State (+13.5)
The return of Snyder has brought success to Manhattan once again. The Sooners will be looking for a bounce back game. The Wildcats have given up nearly 700 yards through the air over the past two games, so Landry Jones should get his. Can the Sooner D bounce back? Manhattan is a tough place to play, and I expect the Wildcats to bring all they have. However, it won’t be enough for the win, but 13.5 just seems silly.

OU 31 Kansas State 27
Jeremy: Oklahoma (-13.5)  Lock of the Week
Bill Snyder's Magical Mystery Tour ends this weekend with a ticked-off Sooner squad coming to Manhattan.  OU rolls big in this one.
Oklahoma 37  Kansas St. 20 
Jimmy: Oklahoma (-13.5)  Lock of the Week
The Sooners will have one of two natural reactions to their stunning loss to Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech team (and yes, I just paused to say that five teams fast...you try it).  OU either mopes all week and packs it in for the rest of the season.  Or Bob Stoops inspires them to stomp their remaining competition in a last-ditch climb back into the top 2 BCS ranks.  Crazier things have happened with 5-6 games for everyone ahead of them.  Playing the role of spoiler for 2 undefeateds is a nice target to zero in on.  Boomer Sooner finds a way to play without their injured starters and throws up Playstation numbers from here on out.
Oklahoma 66  Kansas State 37
Mike: Oklahoma (-13.5)  Lock of the Week
Heading into last week, it appeared that this would be a battle of undefeated teams if Kansas State could handle its in-state rival Jayhawks in Lawrence.  Shockingly, however, Oklahoma was the team that failed to live up to its end of the bargain against a mediocre Texas Tech team at home.  Nonetheless, Oklahoma is still far superior to Kansas State and, assuming that there is no hangover, the Sooners should hand the Wildcats their first of several Big 12 losses this season.  Furthermore, Kansas State is not equipped to play from behind with its lack of a credible passing game, so this one could get ugly if the Sooners can start quickly.
Oklahoma 52 Kansas State 24
Phil: Kansas State (+13.5) 
(Ed. Note: Phil mistakenly thought Oklahoma State was playing this game, so I left his analysis for giggles, soon to be changed...now edited)
I have picked the Cowboys every week. I have a huge man crush on Weeden. They score in bundles and they have not let me down this year. Bill Snyder has the Cats playing as if it were the late nineties and Michael Bishop was running amok on the Big 12.  However, I am gonna stick with my man Weeden.  

Updated pick: Apologies to Landry Jones, but he is no Weeden.  That being said, I think OU bounces back.  I'm not sure how good Snyder's rejuvenated crew is, bu they are playing like Mike Bishop's '97 team.  Wildcats are at home, but I think OU wins in a close game.
Oklahoma 37 K St 31
Michigan State (+4.5) @ Nebraska
Dan: Michigan State (+4.5)
I realize this is the perfect let down opportunity for Michigan State, and, if they had beat ND and were headed into this game undefeated, I think I would take Nebraska. But at least some pressure is off, already having lost a game. The defense finally gave up some points to a non-ND team, allowing 31 against Wisconsin. Of course, Wisconsin was averaging over 50 points a game going into last week, so maybe that is not so bad. I expect the MSU defense to have success limiting the Nebraska offense. The only decent teams Nebraska has played this year have been Wisconsin and OSU. Saving a 4th quarter collapse by the buckeyes, the Huskers have not held their own. In Lincoln, I think they may have enough to pull off the win, but it will be too close to give the points.

Nebraska 21 MSU 20
Jeremy: Michigan St (+4.5)
I'm having a tough time understanding this line.  I know MSU's big wins this year have come at home, but I have a difficult time believing that they lose this game by more than a FG, if they lose it all.  I think the defense is pretty overrated, but Nebraska is pretty one-dimensional and Sparty can stop what they know is coming.  Although this seems like a perfect time for a typical Sparty moment, I'll take MSU to win this one outright.
MSU 27  Nebraska 17
Jimmy: Nebraska (-4.5)
A little incredible that MSU is a 4 point dog this week in the wake of Hail Mary Madness, but Vegas knows best.  Classic let down trap week for a team that hasn’t had a moment to breathe the last 3 weeks with emotionally draining wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.  The tank’s gotta be empty, right?  Spartan fans collective confidence might be at its highest peak since 1966.  Mad props are in order for Mark Dantonio keeping his team’s focus during this grueling stretch.  Most any other week, I’d like Sparty in this as they seem to be a far better team on both sides of the ball.  But this week the script gets flipped.  Nebraska’s home crowd plays a huge role as Bo Pelini’s team feasts on their first statement conference win.  Go Huskers
Nebraska 36  Michigan State 30
Mike: Nebraska (-4.5)
Placing my faith in Nebraska has not worked out very well this season, but I sense that Michigan State is somewhat overrated.  While Michigan State’s defense is getting plenty of hype after their last two wins, Wisconsin was able to move quite effectively last week in East Lansing.  Sparty also made several big plays on special teams and converted a Hail Mary, none of which can be relied upon this week.  There is also a potential emotional letdown factor in this game that favors the host Cornhuskers, thus making Nebraska the smart play here.
Nebraska 31 Michigan State 24
Phil: Michigan St. (+4.5)  Lock of the Week
Not sure the angle here. The wise guys in Vegas must know something that I don't know. Nebraska has been only average this year, and Michigan St has looked pretty good other than their inexplicable egg they laid versus the Irish. Coming off their miraculous win over Wisconsin, I think that Sparty will by flying high, and I think they will outright beat Nebraska.

On to a more important point - after watching the end of the MSU-Whisky game and MNF, does it seem to anyone else that the refs are less concerned with making the right call in games, and instead making the call that will allow replay to get it right. I'm not even sure I know what I am talking about, because I like replay, there just seems to be alot more missed calls lately. The stripes don't have to be good anymore. Oh well.
MSU 28 Nebraska 23
Georgia (-2.5) vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Dan: Georgia( -2.5)  Lock of the Week
Could the cocktail party be any less interesting this year? I don’t remember the last time the SEC East was this irrelevant. The Gators look terrible – how do you only score 6 points against Auburn? Of course, the Bulldogs aren’t having a dream season either. Richt continues to be on the proverbial hot seat, but I think they are playing well enough to handle a Gator team in disarray. Maybe Richt even sneaks into SEC title game if USC slips up, but really the SEC east champion will be nothing more than a whipping boy come December.

Georgia 24 Florida 17
Jeremy: Georgia (-2.5)
Good Lord, the SEC East is a mess.  The Dawgs, on life support early in the year, have a chance to make a big statement this weekend in Jacksonville and make a run to the SEC title game.  Florida's offense may receive a much-needed boost with the return of John Brantley, but here's betting that he won't be at 100% and the Gators will continue to have trouble moving the ball.  A late FG seals a big win for Mark Richt, and probably allows him to keep big-time OL recruit John Theus, and swing Keith Marshall's attention back to Athens.
Georgia 23  Florida 13 
Jimmy: Georgia (-2.5)
One team has an SEC title berth in their crosshairs, while the other is coming to the fight empty handed.  Georgia has taken care of business against the dregs of their SEC schedule (convenient that UGA avoids playing Bama, LSU and Arkansas in regular season) since stumbling out of the gates 0-2.  They’ve caught up to the pack and are in a fine position to gallop down the stretch past fading South Carolina (who still faces Arkansas and Clemson).  Florida’s headless horseman offense looks like they’re running in an entirely different race.  I like UGA in the always entertaining environs of the World’s Largest Cocktail Party.
Georgia 33  Florida 17
Mike: Florida (+2.5)
Assuming that John Brantley comes back, the Florida offense should be much more balanced than in weeks past.  Nonetheless, Georgia’s defense appears to be rounding into form under Todd Grantham and the Dawgs should be able to offset the first half suspensions of Kwame Geathers and Shawn Williams with the return of Cornelius Washington and Alec Ogletree.  On offense, Aaron Murray should have enough success through the air against the Florida secondary to lead Georgia to victory in the Cocktail Party.
Georgia 27 Florida 17
Phil: UGA (-2.5)
I've heard rumors that John Brantley will be playing this weekend. I've also seen Florida play this year, and I think their problems run deeper than not having Brantley. UGA seems to be hitting their stride and Crowell is looking like a 5 star back. The Gators have traditionally dominated this matchup, but I think UGA marches on in the SEC East and gets a win.
UGA 24 UF 14
Bonus Picks  
Dan: Clemson (-4.5) @ Georgia Tech
Clemson has made me nervous at times this year, but something is amiss in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets offense is sputtering a bit, and Clemson can certainly put points on the board. I like Paul Johnson and his triple offense, so I hope they bounce back soon, but I don’t see it being this week. Clemson should cover easily

Clemson 31 GT 20
Jeremy: Central Michigan (-8.5) @ Akron
The Zips almost made me look foolish last weekend, but I'll keep riding them until Rob Ianello finds himself out of a job.  
Central Michigan 30 Akron 17
Jimmy: Virginia Tech (-14) @ Duke
Duke lost to D1-AA Richmond earlier this season, and lost by 25 two weeks ago to Florida State.  The Hokies are better than the Noles with Logan Thomas gaining more confidence each week and David Wilson leading the nation in rushing.  Expect more of the same.
Va. Tech 47  Duke 13
Mike: Arkansas (-10) over Vanderbilt
Arkansas struggled badly last week against a weak Ole Miss team, but a more honest performance should be in store for this week against the Hogs.  If Arkansas plays a decent game, the punchless Commodores do not have a chance to cover this spread, even at home.
Arkansas 34 Vanderbilt 14
Phil: Ole Miss @ Auburn (-7)
Wow, how the mighty have fallen. I don't have much to say about my Tigers, other than the loss of 3 WRs, 4 OL, 5 DL and the greatest college football player ever are looking like too much to overcome. That being said, we have 3 losses this year, to the numbers 1, 4, and 10 teams in the country, all on the road. Not a bad resume, and not unexpected. 

I hope Gus lets Moseley get untracked this week against an improving Ole Miss squad. We need to control the ball, make the smart easy play and get off the field on 3rd down. I hope being at home lets us get back on track heading into "Amen Corner." 
Auburn 34 Ole Miss 21

Last Week
Dan: 1-4 (- Lock of the Week)
Jeremy: 3-2 (-)
Jimmy: 2-3 (-)
Mike: 1-4 (+)
Phil: 4-1 (+)

Season to Date
Dan: 28-17 (6-2)
Jeremy: 28-17-1 (4-4)
Jimmy: 25-18-3 (6-2)
Mike: 20-25-1 (4-3-1)
Phil: 21-23-1 (5-2-1)

October 21, 2011

Notre Dame vs. USC - Let There Be Lights

The glamour intersectional rivalry in the country descends on South Bend this weekend.  The date has been circled on everyone's calendars: coaches, players and fans alike.  Word around town is the team will be sporting the green jerseys and flashy new helmets.  Who will be celebrating in the 11th hour of Saturday?  It's tempting to want to fast forward to that moment, but plenty of excitement to soak up before we get there.  Go Irish!  Beat Trojans!

Dan: Notre Dame
I have been eagerly awaiting this day since they announced it would be a night game months and months ago. On defense, ND should have some luck stopping the run, even if Tyler somehow recovers from a dislocated shoulder in a miraculous 9 days. The front 7 has been dominant all year against pro style running games, and this week should be no different. The question will be whether or not the secondary and linebackers can do two things: stop Woods, particularly on play actions and cover TE / slot receivers over the middle. 

On offense, it comes down to ball control and pounding the football. If Woods and Gray and find the hole and average at least 4.5 YPC, we should be able to control the clock and open up some opportunities for Floyd and Eifert. 
Special teams – well, let’s just hope we don’t have to punt, return punts, or kick a field goal. 
I think enough of these come together with few enough mistakes for the Irish to continue their streak and set them on a collision course with Stanford next month.  
Notre Dame 31 USC 27
Jeremy: Notre Dame
The stage is set for ND's game of the year.  Although Stanford sure looks like the toughest team on the schedule, the atmosphere and the recruits in town have ND firmly in the spotlight, even if neither of the teams are ranked, again.  
USC hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire this year, but there are still plenty of weapons hanging around the Trojan program.  Barkley to Woods is a dynamite combination, and USC's OL is very, very good.  SC should have trouble running the ball consistently against the stout Irish front 7, but even if the Irish can get some good pass rush, Barkley is going to get his yards, and the Trojans will score some points.  
The Trojans also have some star power on the defensive side of the ball, but they haven't looked terribly impressive thus far, particularly against the only competent offense they've faced (Arizona St.).  SC can generate some pressure from the front 7, but the Trojans give up big chunks through the air, and the ND OL should be able to get a good push, particularly when coming up against the smallish Trojans LB corps.  
Its amazing how quickly things can change in the world of college football - two years ago, I remember saying that the Irish would give SC all they could handle, but I couldn't pick against the talent of the Trojans.  Now, I'm thinking the complete opposite.  The Irish just have too many weapons, on both sides of the ball, to lose this game.  Unless they beat themselves.  Which Irish fans have seen happen a few times already.
Keys to the game, from an Irish perspective:
- TAKE CARE OF THE BALL.  Not a surprising one, given the troubles in the early part of the season.  If ND wins the turnover battle, I don't think SC stands much of a chance.
- DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS.  Opposing offenses haven't had a whole lot of consistent success against the Irish defense.  Apart from the 4th quarter of the Michigan game, the D also has been very good about limiting big plays.  If I had to guess, I'd say that Diaco has decided that Irish opponents are going to have to march 80 yards to score every time they touch the ball.  No long TDs, but also not a whole lot of risk-taking.  This leads to some big open spaces short and in the middle of the field.  Both Pitt and MSU were able to, at times, take advantage of these openings by running guys out of the backfield, crossing WRs, or dragging TEs.  You can bet that Kiffin and his staff have noticed this on tape.  The Irish LBs and safeties will have to be better about limiting these types of plays.  I can just imagine Barkley converting a bunch of 3rd and intermediate, or even 3rd and longs by finding TEs, or one of the backs creeping out of the backfield.
- PUT BARKLEY ON HIS BACK.  One of the reasons why the "Death By A Thousand Cuts" offense could very well fail is that the Trojans are a bit mistake-prone.  Occasional turnovers and back-breaking penalties have ruined quite a few SC drives this year.  Barkley looks great when he has time to survey the field, but can get a little shaky when he has to move his feet and gets knocked on his rear end.  Lynch, Fleming and others will have to find a way to get consistent pressure against the solid SC OL.  Diaco may have to dial up a few blitzes early to try to make Barkley uncomfortable in the pocket.  
In the end, I believe that the Irish offense is functioning as well as it has all year.  Both Wood and Gray are running wild, and Rees is looking more comfortable with every passing week.  The WRs are healthy and performing at a high level.  And the Hendrix wrinkle is a great one, especially if Kelly can use the package to make sure that the Irish maintain a consistent running threat in the red zone.  The defense was gashed at times against AFA, but the D was built to defend this offense.  The Trojans won't run, and Lynch and others should be able to get Barkley's feet moving early on in the game.  
The game remains close until midway through the 3rd quarter, when the Irish start to impose their will on the ground.  But there isn't a defense on the schedule (with the possible exception of Stanford) that can keep the Irish under 30 points.  The Trojans won't be able to keep up.  A late SC TD makes this game closer than it should be, but the Irish grab a big win to continue their march toward a possible BCS berth.
ND 34  USC 24
Jimmy: Notre Dame
The Irish will charge through the tunnel with a steely-focus thanks to two weeks of preparation.  With Fall Break this week, the players had few distractions from the task at end - Beat 'SC.  New pages of the playbook should be on display now that the threat of a change-of-pace QB is real.  The running game hasn't looked this strong and confident in years.  And Mike Floyd still runs patterns that few can guard.  Manti Te'o wants nothing more than to stuff the Trojans every chance he gets.  Granted, the secondary will have their hands full keeping Robert Woods and Marquise Lee in front of them.  A full-strength D-line can help their mates with a monster effort in disrupting Matt Barkley's timing and clean looks.  There's no reason ND shouldn't beat USC comfortably by a couple touchdowns, but, aside from Willingham's Scarlet L contribution to this series, most of the games for the Jeweled Shillelagh are hotly contested.  

Last year, beating the Trojans went a long way towards flipping the progress arrow around and pointing the right direction.  So what if it came courtesy of an absolute gift dropped pass in the end zone - those are the breaks, especially in this rivalry that's seen all sorts of controversy and close calls over its 80+ years of competition.  With ND's strength of schedule tanking (kudos Pitt and USF for fading into Bolivian), BK needs to hang his hat on more than MSU, and style points count for something in the college game.  Beating up on Purdue & Air Force were nice strokes to the ego that the team can once again T.C. of their B with yawners.  Leaving no doubt in the 1st quarter who will be winning a game is part of raising expectations across the board.  The better team shouldn't go to the wire for their wins every week.  Mop up duty is a luxury reserved for the best teams.  An equally, if not more important part of raised expectations is taking care of your rivals, especially when they're on a down swing.  Cue the Kiffykins theme song.

A short list of the coaches we as a sporting populace love to hate includes, in no particular order, Jimmy Johnson (too brash, but you had to respect his success and ability), Nick Saban (too power-mongering, but respect), Urban Meyer (too close to coming to ND, but respect), Coach K (too nasally-voiced and successful with white kids, but respect), Pat Riley (too greasy and guilty of changing the NBA into an ugly, uber-physical mess, but respect), John Calipari (also greasy, flaunts the NCAA at every turn, but his teams play exciting basketball, so respect), Bo Schembechler (too blowhard and too chicken to schedule ND, but won a lot of games, minus a title, so respect with an asterisk), Jim Boeheim (too whiny, but respect), Phil Jackson (pure ring envy, mucho respect), Rick Pitino (too Godfather-ish, but respect), Jim Calhoun (too East Coast and questionable improprieties with his program, but respect), Bobby Huggins (too jumpsuity, too many years of 0% graduation rate and one too many drinks to drive, yet all reasons that endear him as an everyman) and Bobby Petrino (too untrustworthy, respect pending).  

And then there's Lane Kiffin.  Success has yet to follow Lane as he's earned zero respect on his own thus far in his coaching career.  The guy who's on his 3rd professional stop in 4 years exudes an air of entitlement mixed with a spoiled brat douchebagery and a misplaced sense of what tradition means (his disregard for Coach Neyland's longstanding traditions among many faux-pauxs in his solitary year at Tennessee).  A win Saturday brings an extra sense of satisfaction that another loss goes on Lane's resume. 

See you in the lots...all day.  It's going to be a magical night of Notre Dame football.  Pack an extra voice because everyone should lose theirs after the 1st quarter.  Let's get it done.

ND 36  USC 30
Mike: Notre Dame
Leaving aside the game for a moment, it is worth noting that the return of night football to Notre Dame Stadium has galvanized the alumni base.  I will be in attendance and it seems that virtually all of my friends will be descending upon South Bend from all over the country.  Campus will likely be a madhouse this week and the tailgate scene on Saturday should be incredible, especially if the parking lots will indeed be open at the usual time.  I’m already at a fever pitch for this weekend and it’s only Tuesday.
With respect to the matchup, I’ve been able to watch USC a few times this year and they bear a close resemblance to last year’s team.  On offense, the Trojans have several talented wideouts, a stable of decent running backs and a mediocre offensive line.  At quarterback, Matt Barkley can look impressive when he has time to throw, but he remains inconsistent and especially erratic when pressured.   With its advantage up front, Notre Dame should be able to slow the USC running game and apply some heat to Barkley.  With any luck, the Irish will be able to force the Trojans into several turnovers in the process.
As with its offense, the USC defense has several standout players, but the unit lacks depth and discipline.  Although Notre Dame will have its hands full with defensive end Nick Perry in passing downs, the Irish should be able to run the ball effectively against the Trojans’ front seven.  Against Cal, USC’s linebackers and safeties seemed particularly inclined to eschew proper tackling fundamentals in favor of the attempted kill shot, which could result in big plays for Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray.  In addition, the USC cornerbacks are banged up, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Michael Floyd to shine.
With a raucous home crowd (yes, even at Notre Dame Stadium) and green jerseys (yes, I realize that they haven’t exactly been very magical recently), the Irish will come out smoking.  USC will keep the game close after weathering the initial torrent of emotion, but Notre Dame will wear down the visitors in the trenches to earn a second consecutive victory over their rivals from the Golden State.
Notre Dame 28 USC 21
Phil: Notre Dame
Well, to echo a recent email from a friend, the Irish look amazing. They are clicking on all cylinders and I really don't see any weaknesses, other than getting in our own way with turnovers and boneheaded mistakes. I like what BK is doing with the lads, and he seems to be recruiting well  too. This is one of the hottest tickets around and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of what will be a glorious weekend and a big Irish W. 
ND 34 USC 21

October 19, 2011

WeIs Roundtable Week 8 Picks: Putting the Unbeatens to the Test Edition

An outstanding week for college football fans.  Intriguing matchups all around.  No reason to dally - let's get right to the picks.

Wisconsin (-7.5) @ Michigan State
Dan: Wisconsin (-7.5)
I am actually surprised this score isn’t a little higher. I know MSU’s defense has been dominant, excepting their trip to South Bend. However, in this match-up, I think Wisconsin will be able to run on MSU and I just don’t think the Spartans can keep up on offense. 
Wisconsin 38 Michigan State 24
Jeremy: Wisconsin (-7.5) Lock of the Week
Interesting test for the Badgers.  Their first real road game, and MSU is coming off the nice win over Michigan.  Probably a bit of a letdown here for Sparty, though their solid front seven should keep them in the game until late.  Will be interesting to see if Dantonio punishes Gholston at all this weekend.  I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.  Wilson and Wisco eventually wear down MSU and pull away in the final frame.
Wisconsin 34  MSU 20
Jimmy: Wisconsin (-7.5)  Lock of the Week
An electric night game atmosphere looking to sacrifice the blood of Bucky Badger is a tempting upset pick.  I watched most of the Spartans game against Michigan and their defense looked impressive in selling out to stop Denard.  They blitzed with reckless abandon and committed penalties with even more recklessness.  But that outcome didn’t surprise me at all.  Michigan was ripe to be beaten.  Wisconsin, I’m afraid, is not.  
The offensive balance and talent at all positions is a distinct difference from UM’s one-trick pony.  Provided Nick Toon is back on the field, the receiving corps is very underrated and know how to get open for Russell Wilson.  Wilson is the real deal prospect, capable of hurting you with his arm, legs and now hands.  The Thunder & Lightning backfield of Ball and White can wear down the Spartans by themselves.  People are getting a little overzealous anointing MSU’s defense as dominant.  Lest we forget, ND scored 31 on this vaunted unit.  I’ll be quite surprised if they hold Wisconsin under 30.
Wisconsin 38  MSU 24
Mike: Michigan State (+7.5)
Perhaps I have been underrating Wisconsin all year, but I still refuse to believe that the Badgers are an elite team.  While Wisconsin has steamrolled all of its opponents this year and its offense looks legitimate, I wonder whether its defense will hold up to a quality offensive attack.  Even though Michigan State’s offense has not been overly impressive, they showed signs of recapturing their ability to run the football last week against Michigan and I expect a similar performance this week, coupled with an improved effort by Kirk Cousins.  The Spartans will move the ball effectively, slow Wisconsin’s offense more than any of the Badgers’ prior opponents and ride the wave of home emotion for another big win.
Michigan State 33 Wisconsin 31
Phil: Michigan St (+7.5)  Lock of the Week
Could this be considered the first TRUE test for the Badgers? Nebraska is not as good as advertisement, and while I do not think MSU is that great, they did beat Michigan, although the game was closer than the final score lets on. While I think Russell Wilson gets it done and Whisky marches on to an undefeated season and a 3rd place finish, I think this game will be a close one, and MSU will play tough. 
Wisconsin 28 Michigan St 24
Oklahoma State (-7) @ Missouri
Dan: Missouri (+7)
My general gambling strategy this year has been stick with the big favorites and ride them to a big pay day. Stanford, LSU, and Alabama are a combined 18-2 against the spread this year. Other undefeated teams like Boise State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Clemson also have performed well against the spread. Oklahoma State, however, does not give me the same confidence as those other teams. Missouri is a mundane 3-3, but those three losses are an OT loss @ ASU,  @OU, and @KState by a touchdown. This is a tough call for me, but I think the Cowboys may be due for a stumble, and an 11:00 am start on the road may be just the formula. Cowboys are too good to lose to Missouri, but a sneaky cover may lie in the Tigers’ future. 
Oklahoma State 23 Missouri 17
Jeremy: Oklahoma St (-7)
Oklahoma St. has taken care of business the last few weeks, setting the table for one of the bigger Bedlam games in the history of the series in a few weeks.  But they've got to go on the road to Mizzou this week, and the Tigers will be looking to play spoiler.  I do think the Cowboys are looking ahead a bit, but they find a way to win on the road in the 4th quarter and cover the TD.
Oklahoma St. 37  Missouri 27
Jimmy: Oklahoma State (-7)
This shouldn’t be just another blowout romp for the Cowboys.  Missouri might be the best 3 loss team in the country, with 3 tough road losses to a top 25 Arizona State team (37-30), the nation’s  surprise undefeated Kansas State (24-17) and Oklahoma (38-28).  James Franklin is getting comfortable in his role, spreading the love around to multiple weapons, and Kendial Lawrence is back from injury to make the backfield doubly potent.  Add in the pressure/opportunity of a job interview type game with the SEC reviewing Mizzou’s conference application.  A win would go a long ways toward convincing Mike Slive to name them the 14th SEC school (and 3rd Tigers mascot in the conference - maybe they’d force them to pick another animal to add some variety to the mascot zoo.  The Missouri Moose has a nice ring to it.  Or Mastadons.  Don’t think any school has picked the Chameleons.  Herbie Hancock could even compose a new fight song [if you're a fan of the 80's, you'll love this clip - dig the honky saxaphonist in the Hammer pants, and the pony-tailed fade haircut on the guy playing the drum sticks.  I think that's all he's playing.  Doesn't look the band trusted him with a full drum kit].  Digressing, I know...me and my mascots). 
While there’s plenty of reasons to predict a students-dangling-from-the-uprights moment (is it me or have there been significantly fewer rushing of the fields so far this season?), I still like Oklahoma State to win comfortably.  Their win in Austin last week spoke volumes for their team composure in a tight game.  And they’ve covered the spread their last 5 games.  While I don’t think Mike Gundy runs the table, Stillwater’s streak lives on another week.
Oklahoma State 44  Missouri 34
Mike: Missouri (+7)
In my worst season of prognosticating in about a decade, I continue to cling stubbornly to the idea that Oklahoma State will eventually stub its toe and fall back to the middle of the top 25.  Obviously, I have been wrong in the last few weeks, but, rather than take my medicine and quit while I’m behind, I will call for Missouri to upset the Cowboys.  The Tigers have the talent to beat Oklahoma State, especially if they are able to rely upon their strong running game to keep Weeden and Blackmon off the field.  Missouri will control the clock and slow the Pokes just enough to score the outright upset in Columbia.
Missouri 35 Oklahoma State 31
Phil: Oklahoma State (-7)
Not sure about Missouri this year. They seem to be always competitive, and pull a big upset each year a la OU last year. However, I do know about Weeden and Blackmon and I am quite a fan of the Cowboys. Even a tough away game cannot keep the pokes from marching on to Bedlam unscathed. 
OK St 41 Missouri 31
Washington (+20) @ Stanford
Dan: Washington (+20)
Washington’s defense has not performed well this year. Stanford can certainly score enough points to cover by 20 points. Whether or not they will comes down to the Cardinal defense vs. Cougar offense. This is the first threatening offense Stanford is encountering this year. While the defense has performed very well against some lesser teams (allowing 8.2 ppg) this year, it will have its hands full this weekend with young Keith Price, who is 2nd in the nation in TD passes. Luck will get his points, but Price and the Huskies score enough for the cover and deliver Stanford its first loss ATS.
Stanford 44 Washington 27
Jeremy: Washington (+20)
I think Sark is quietly building something solid up there in on the banks of Lake Washington, and I'll have an eye on the score of this one during the ND game on Saturday.  Luck is obviously outstanding, but the Cardinal haven't really been tested much yet, and I'd expect Sark and the Huskies to pull out all the stops to give Stanford their best shot.  It isn't enough, but the Cardinal get a bit of a wake-up call.
Stanford 30  Washington 17
Jimmy: Washington (+20)
Though they’re a combined 11-1, neither team has really beaten anyone of merit.  While Stanford’s defense has yet to surrender 20 points, this Huskies offense will be the best they’ve faced.  Stanford seems due for a little scare.  A close thriller might even help Luck’s Heisman candidacy, both in numbers and attention.  The Cardinal hold on, but this seems like too many points.
Stanford 46  Washington 38
Mike: Washington (+20)
Further proving that Jake Locker might have been the most overrated player in the history of college football, his replacement, Keith Price, is putting up better numbers in his first year as a starter than Locker put up in his senior season.  Washington also boasts a strong running game with Chris Polk, Jesse Callier and true freshman Bishop Sankey, who decommitted from Wazzu last year.  Of course, Washington’s defense, led by the embattled defensive coordinator Nick Holt, is still shaky, which could mean another huge performance for Andrew Luck.  The Huskies will score enough to cover the spread, but they will not keep pace with Luck and the Cardinal offense in Palo Alto.
Stanford 45 Washington 28  
Phil: Stanford (-20)
Lots of points on the line here, but Stanford is at home, and Washington is not that good. On to the next one.
Stanford 40 Washington 14
LSU (-22.5) @ Auburn
Dan: Auburn (+22.5)
That spread is pretty tough to stomach. In prior years, I could not have imagined this spread, let alone imagined taking the favorite. LSU has been absolutely dominant with a margin of victory of 29 points in their last 4 (WVU, UK, UF, UT). But I can’t bring myself to take a 22.5 favorite against the defending national champions. LSU will still dominate the game, but Auburn does enough to get the cover.
LSU 31 Auburn 16
Jeremy: LSU (-22.5)
Sorry Dr. Phil, but after watching most of last week's Auburn-Florida game, I don't have any confidence that the War Eagle will be able to score any points on that ferocious LSU defense.  LSU runs away in the 2nd half.
LSU 31  Auburn 3
Jimmy: Auburn (+22.5)
The Tiger Bowl has become appointment television the last few years with 6 of the last 7 contests decided by a touchdown or less.  Not surprisingly, at least one team has been ranked in the top 10 in all of those games, as is the case this year.  LSU keeps looking scary good while Auburn keeps us guessing which team will show up.  What we do know is Auburn has a punishing running attack led my Michael Dyer, which can bleed the clock and keep this a tight contest.  LSU might stack 10 in the box to see if Clint Moseley can beat them in his first start.  This pick respects the history of the rivalry more than anything.

LSU 19  Auburn 14
Mike: Auburn (+22.5)
As with Oklahoma State, I continue to pick against LSU every week and I continue to get burned.  Still, I just cannot accept that LSU, with its pedestrian offense, will keep winning by huge margins every week.  Auburn’s offense has devolved into a train wreck over the last few games, so the LSU defense should be more than capable of dominating again.  On the other hand, the Auburn defense has improved enough to keep this game close enough to earn the cover.
LSU 27 Auburn 10
Phil: Auburn (+22.5)
On to the marquee matchup of the weekend. Auburn, coming off another horrendous offensive performance (is Malzahn really getting 1.3 million this year?!?), finds themselves an underdog by more than 3 TDs. If this isn't bulletin board material for the fightin' Chiziks, then I don't know what is. 
Let's discuss the positives. Going back about 15 years, Auburn wins most of the day games, LSU wins most of the night games. This game is the 2:30 CBS game. Auburn traditionally plays LSU close. Our defense, and especially our D Line has shown vast improvement over the past 3 games, and we have made tackles and gotten pressure on the QB. LSU is not a well oiled machine on offense and they run a more conservative game plan, different from the pass-happy Razorbacks, who shredded us. 
Here are the negatives. LSU has a crazy amazing defense and Auburn is breaking a first time starter in a QB. Baton Rouge will be jumpin' for this game, as no one has forgotten what Cam did to the corn dogs last year. 
Call me an idealist but I see alot of things that could make this game competitive. I can also see Auburn keeping it close early, but due to our inability to move the ball, a Tyrann Mathieu fumble return for a TD blows the game wide open and LSU wins going away. Either way, I refuse to believe that the mighty War Eagles will approach this game laying down and I hope that Mean Gene and Gus have a little something cooked up. #WDE
Auburn 20 LSU 16
Bonus Picks
Dan: New Mexico @ TCU (-41)
New Mexico just lost at Nevada 49-7. TCU is better than Nevada by a fair amount. This may be the largest spread I will ever have money on the favorite. 
TCU 54 New Mexico 10
Jeremy: Ohio (-14) at Akron
I've wanted to bet against the Zips ever since Week 1 and keep forgetting about it.  Any team that looks as poor as Akron did against the Buckeyes has to be absolutely miserable.  In looking over their scores, they have been a little friskier lately, but I'd consider making the Zips my go-to pick the rest of the year.
Ohio 28  Akron 10
Jimmy: Indiana @ Iowa (-21.5)
IU wishes they could start Gunner Kiel now.  They stink.  Confident the home team can blow off some steam and cover this reasonably placed spread.  Vegas shouldn't put any team with a pulse within 30 of the Hoosiers.  

Iowa 48  Indiana 13
Mike: Wake Forest (-3) over Duke
Wake Forest took a step back last week against Virginia Tech, but they are still far superior to Duke.  Despite playing in front of 15,000 rabid fans in Wallace Wade Stadium (query- do the students have a nickname for football like the “Cameron Crazies” for basketball?  The Wallace Wade Wildmen?  The Dub Dub Deranged?  The Duke Kooks?), the Deacs should be able to handle their Tobacco Road rivals with relative ease.
Wake Forest 35 Duke 24 
Phil: Georgia Tech @ Miami (-2)
I anticipated Tech would be the favorite here, and it would be easy money, but alas, Vegas proves again how smart they are. GT was exposed to some degree last week, with their first L of the season and Miami seems to be hitting thier stride. Like what Al Golden is doing, and I think the Canes can pull of the W.
Miami 24 GT 17
Last Week
Dan: 4-1 (+ Lock of the Week)
Jeremy: 4-1 (+)
Jimmy: 2-3 (-)
Mike: 2-3 (+)
Phil: 2-3 (+)
Season To Date
Dan: 27-13 (6-1) 
Jeremy: 25-15-1 (4-3)
Jimmy: 23-15-3 (6-1)
Mike: 19-21-1 (3-3-1)
Phil: 17-22-1 (4-2-1)