September 29, 2008

Here come the Irish (and Alabama)

WOW, what a difference a week makes. While Purdue is clearly a lower echelon team, the Irish took it to them and completely dominated this game. Are we turning the corner?? I think so.

Before we hit the Irish game up, let’s go around the college football world for a bit. First of all, while I had a feeling that Alabama would win that game Saturday, there was no way anyone could have seen the destruction that took place in Athens last night (well, maybe the Alabama strength coach). Their defensive line is absolutely incredible. It is amazing how quickly Saban has put together the LSU type lines at Alabama. Saban has brought to the SEC in the last ten years what Steve Spurrier brought to the SEC in the decade before. He has changed the way football is being played in the SEC. He has taken the speed and athleticism of SEC and added a power element that thrives on physical play and smashmouth football on the lines. Now, it seems like almost every team in the SEC is working with that blueprint (with one notable exception which we’ll get to a minute). Think about it – Georgia, Bama, Auburn (although they are messing with the spread now), LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, etc. All running smashmouth pro-style offense with physical defense.

Who better to execute that style than the Dean himself, Nick Saban?? When you think about it that way, it really isn’t surprising what Nick Saban is doing at Alabama. Bama has similar talent to LSU and Georgia and others, and now they have Saban bringing the trademark Saban intensity and dominant line play to the fold. Saban was so dialed in Saturday night it wasn’t even funny.

Bama looked NASTY last night. It looked like Georgia didn’t want to be on the field with them at times. Julio Jones is an absolute stud, and it looks like John Parker Wilson has discovered his inner Jay Barker. Bama is the best team in the country if you ask me. Someone grab that “Southern” belt from Gainesville and FedEx it to Tuscaloosa.

As for the “notable exception” to the new SEC blueprint, I had a chance to watch most of the Florida-Mississippi game yesterday, and I can honestly say that it was no fluke. Ole Miss won the line of scrimmage battle in this game, and they legitimately deserved to win. I have always been a believer in Urban Meyer, but they looked soft and out of sync yesterday. Their offense is completely reliant on Tebow and Percy Harvin to make individually great plays. Every play is some sort of effort to force the ball into Harvin's hands. They don’t have any type of interior running game, their line doesn’t block all that well in the running game or the passing game, and it seems like a book is forming on how to stop them. When they needed to impose their will on Ole Miss, they couldn’t do it. Florida doesn’t have a smashmouth gear at all. They had a couple bad turnovers and certainly weren’t “up” for that game, but it wasn’t a complete fluke game either. Should be interesting to see what happens at Florida this year. I'm not going to suggest that Florida isn't a good team, but I think there is mild cause for concern down in Gainesville.

Yesterday was also the first time I’ve had to watch Penn State play. It all starts up front with them too. They have good skill position players, but their running backs are plowing through huge holes. It seems like Penn State is good every few years, and it’s probably because they have a bunch of seniors on the o-line. They look like the class of the Big 10 so far, and I have no doubt that the PSU faithful will be pointing to that Oregon State result a whole bunch of times this year.

Week 5 Power Poll:

1) Alabama
2) LSU
3) Oklahoma
4) USC
5) Texas

While Oklahoma has admittedly been really dominant so far, I’m rewarding LSU for that win at Auburn and Alabama for the win at Georgia. OU hasn’t beaten anyone yet. If they start piling up some quality wins in the Big 12, I’ll reconsider this ranking. As for USC, I’m keeping them where they are because they still have one of the most impressive wins in the country through 4-5 games. They can easily be passed on this list because the Pac 10 is not going to give them a lot of chances for impressive wins from here on out.

The title game is setting up to be the Big 12 champ against the SEC champ. I can live with that.

On to the ND game:

Jimmy Clausen – While Clausen has generally played well all season, I think yesterday was his breakout game nationally. ND fans have seen the progress that Clausen has made since last year, but I think he is starting to turn some heads around the country now. I was getting text messages during the game from work buddies along the lines of “Wow, Clausen is going to be a pro” and “When did Clausen get this good?” He was firing on all cylinders Saturday. Making all the throws, directing traffic at the line of scrimmage, and even moving around in the pocket and going through his progressions.

To all the national critics who have been calling Jimmy Clausen overrated (even though he is a sophomore), you are kidding yourself if you still aren’t ready to admit that he is a great talent. He is the real deal, and any opinion otherwise is just bitterness.

This team is now Clausen’s team, and he is emerging as a big time leader. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Clausen has the ability to be an all-time great at ND and surpass all the records that Brady Quinn set a few years ago. He is starting to put up the gaudy numbers that we used to see in 2005 and 2006. How about this line of succession for the quarterback position at Notre Dame??

Brady Quinn – 2003-2006
Jimmy Clausen – 2007-2010
Dayne Crist – 2011-2012

That’s USC type stuff going forward. And the great news is that Dayne Crist will be a junior when he takes over the position, so we won’t have as many growing pains like we did when Clausen started as a freshman. This position is set for the next five years. That’s a pretty good feeling. The Weis offense needs top notch play at the QB position, and that’s a pretty good group right there.

Running back/o-line – Well, I think we found ourselves a running back (and an offensive line for that matter). Going into this game, it seems like the running back position started getting a little more attention from fans as a possible problem with the running game. I actually thought there was something to that, but part of it was that we hadn’t really found the right scheme for our running backs. I think we finally have found something in the running game with this one back offense with Armando Allen. He ran really hard yesterday and actually broke some tackles. Easily the best game of his career, and the line was setting up the blocks that he needs to succeed. I really like what Allen was doing yesterday in the running game. Maybe the game is finally slowing down for him, and he is realizing that he can rip off some big runs if he hits the hole and keeps churning. Allen has earned the right to be the feature back in this offense, and he does a lot of the things that the one back offense is trying to accomplish. Plus, he has nice hands out of the backfield.

How great was it to run the football in that 2nd and 3rd quarter?? We just demoralized them with the ground game. If you can run the football, you take control of the game. We saw it in the Alabama game yesterday and the Oregon State game on Thursday, and it seems true all over college football. Once we started running the ball for 8-10 yards a pop against Purdue, I felt myself relaxing. We were in complete control of the game and totally in rhythm. It was the first time I’ve felt like that during an ND football game in a long time. It’s just a nice feeling to be able to churn out yards on the ground.

We are probably always going to be a “pass to set up the run” type team, and that really doesn’t bother me at all. The key is that we show the capability of running the ball and getting into a rhythm on the ground. When we have the ground game going, the Weis offense can be a thing of beauty.

As for the other running backs, I thought James Aldridge ran really hard yesterday. Honestly, he looked better than Hughes did yesterday. I’ve been a fan of Hughes, but he’s been dancing a little too much the last couple games. He has the body and feet to be a load, but he’s gotta hit the hole.

A.F.R.O.S. – America’s Finest Receivers on Saturday are back in a big way at ND. Somewhere Malcolm Johnson is smiling. Are we sure that some 10 year NFL vet isn’t sneaking into that #3 ND jersey on Saturdays?? WOW. Michael Floyd is 18 years old, but he looks like someone who has been playing on Sundays for years. So smooth and polished, and does all the things that the great receivers do: Great balance on the sideline, catches everything with his hands, goes up and catches the ball at the highest point, adjusts to the ball in the air, uses his body to get position, and always seems to be going forward after making a catch. Crazy to think how good he will become over the next couple years, especially as we incorporate more of the Weis passing game with these guys and start getting him more looks over the middle.

As for Golden Tate, how about that incredible catch on the sideline on the bomb play?? What an amazing catch.

I’ll go ahead and say it. Notre Dame has the best young wide receivers in the country. Both those guys will be playing in the NFL someday. If anyone is reading this blog from another school, I would love to hear some other duos better than Floyd and Tate. I find it hard to believe. For the record, yes I watched Julio Jones last night, and yes he looks like the next Terrell Owens.

I said it last week, and I’ll say it again today. If you were a receiver prospect, why would ND not be on your short list?? You get to play with really good QBs, and you are going to get a ton of balls thrown your way. Floyd and Tate are going to put up ridiculous stats this year.

Duval Kamara – A couple thoughts on Duval Kamara while we’re here. Before I discuss Duval, the thought that keeps popping into my mind is that the sudden decline of Duval Kamara is EXACTLY why recruiting and stocking talent are so important in college football. He has essentially been passed up on the depth chart by better players because Weis has been working so hard on the recruiting trail. During the dark days of Notre Dame football in the Willingham era, Kamara would be starting this year and probably giving us the maddeningly inconsistent play that we’ve seen from him this year. If Kamara was starting for this team while Floyd was starting his freshmen year at USC or Illinois or wherever, we’d probably be 2-2 right now. However, instead of mailing it in at the wide receiver position once he lined up Kamara (which would have been a Willingham move), Weis kept recruiting and eventually landed an even better prospect in Michael Floyd. Competition breeds excellence. And we haven’t even seen Deion Walker yet. By all accounts, Walker is going to be another big time weapon in this offense down the road.

For all you national writers who have been killing ND and Weis for the last year or so, that is EXACTLY the reason why ND fans have been patient with Weis. He has been steadily stockpiling talent at ND the likes of which we haven’t seen at the school for 15 years, and we are only starting to see that talent come to fruition now. We now have legitimate competitions for starting spots at every position on the field, and it is raising the overall play of the team. The days of a guy starting just because he’s the only guy at the position are over at ND. If you want to start at ND, you are going to have to beat out 3-4 guys on the depth chart. The man who deserves credit for bringing in so much depth is Charlie Weis.

As far as Duval Kamara goes, I don’t want to sound like I am giving up on him at all. I still remember the guy who splashed onto the scene last year, and it is clear that he has a lot of natural ability. I was actually glad to see Weis trying to get him the ball yesterday, especially in the fourth quarter. Weis knows that he needs to keep working with Kamara, and that hopefully the light bulb will eventually go on for this guy. He’s only a true sophomore and still developing his skills. I think he’s lost some confidence, but he also just needs to work on his fundamentals – catching it with his hands, using his body to make plays, and running better routes. Hopefully he can keep working on his game and start becoming a productive player for this team.

Tight Ends – Kyle Rudolph!! Sabol, if you’re reading this blog, that’s why I picked him up this week for my fantasy team. I just had a feeling that Rudolph was about to break out and become a bigger part of this offense. He was running wide open down the field all day against Michigan State, and now it looks like he is getting more and more comfortable within this offense. Let’s be honest, the tight end position was a huge part of this offense in 2005 and 2006. It seemed like we used to hit that seam route down the field at least once or twice a game, and then Fasano/Carlson would find ways to get open underneath to convert 3rd downs. How great was it to see our bread and butter short yardage pop pass to the tight end yesterday?? That play ALWAYS worked in the early Weis years, and it was great to see it coming out of the woodwork yesterday.

Great day for Rudolph. We’ve been recruiting the best tight ends in the country for a few years, so it was only a matter of time before that aspect of the Weis offense came back to life.

Comparisons to 2005 – While watching the game yesterday, it was hard not to start thinking back to 2005 when this offense was really clicking. Running the ball out of the one back offense, wide receivers making plays down the field, QB making all the throws, and the tight end finding seams in the middle of the field.

That is the Weis offense in a nutshell, and he proved in 2005 that you can put a lot of points on the board with that type of offense. The Weis offense has not changed. He just needed the players to run it again, and those players are starting to emerge.

Just thinking about some comparisons between that 2005 team and the current team:

Clausen – Brady Quinn - No need to compare the two for now, but let’s just say Clausen is more than capable of handling that role

Armando Allen – Darius Walker – Darius was just about the most underrated ND player ever, and we saw last year how much we missed having a running back like Darius who knew when to hit the hole and did all the little things. Darius didn’t really even need coaching. He basically had the natural instincts for the running back position as soon as he walked on campus. It took him a little while to arrive, but Armando Allen has the ability to be Darius Walker with more top end speed and explosiveness. We are now seeing that he could be the perfect player for the Weis offense. He catches the ball out of the backfield, he is hitting the hole with authority, and he’s even breaking tackles.

Floyd –Tate - Stovall-Shark -- You can mix and match these guys, but the bottom line is that we now have 2 go-to receivers who are going to put up Stovall-Shark type numbers in this offense. They can go long, they can get stuff over the middle, they block, and they are both competitors. And when Deion Walker takes that 4.4 40 to the field next year as the designated “burner”, this offense could really be something.

Rudolph – Fasano – Throw in Fauria next year and maybe Ragone, and that position is going to be unbelievable. No surprises there. We have been recruiting like crazy at the tight end position for a few years now.

Can you believe how young this team is?? We are starting a true sophomore at QB, a true sophomore at running back, a true freshman at WR, a true sophomore at WR, and a true freshman at tight tend. That is remarkably young.

The heroes of 2005 are re-emerging in 2008. While guys like the Shark and “The Paisan” and Darius will always be favorites of mine, the current crop has the potential to be even better.

While the 2005 team was not a championship level team by any means, we did have a championship level offense that year. The problem with that team was that we had literally no defense. If we could produce a championship level defense to go with that offense, we could be really scary.

Defensive line – It’s still our weakest unit by far, but I wanted to focus on one guy in particular as a bright spot. ETHAN JOHNSON. WOW. That guy is a different-looking player than what we have had at ND in quite a few years. His size alone is impressive. He is a big dude. EJ exploded through the line a few times yesterday. Totally changes the face of our defense. When we get to the point where we have d-linemen blowing up the man across the ball and getting in the face of the QB, our defense is going to really take off. It is the missing piece with this defense. We get very little penetration from our front 3. If you watched Alabama last night, they were getting to Stafford with just their three down linemen. When they started bringing extra people, it was like a jailbreak.

Again, Ethan Johnson – TRUE FRESHMAN. It is absolutely incredible how young this team is. It would be nice to see 4-5 more Ethan Johnsons on that d-line. That is what you see down at Alabama and LSU and USC. That is where we need to get if we want to have a championship level defense. You win on defense at the line of scrimmage. When we were getting pressure on Painter, he was making bad throws. As Jeremy pointed out, Pat Haden mentioned that several times during the telecast. When he had time, he picked us apart.

I really am not that worried about all the yards that Painter put up. I expected him to throw for a lot of yards, but the defense clamped down in the red zone. That is where you make your mark against Purdue, and we did what we needed to do.

I like where this defense is headed. We know what the big need is for this defense. Bigger and better d-lineman and more depth. Our scheme is good, we attack well, and our back seven is good. We just need to dominate the line of scrimmage now.

Linebackers – Another typical game for Brian Smith: All over the field, hustling everywhere, blowing up plays in the backfield, getting to the QB. Not much that can be said about him that hasn’t already been said.

This week’s linebacker post is mainly going to be about Harrison Smith. He did actually have a really nice fourth quarter and started making some plays, but I can’t shake the feeling that he is the weak link in the linebacking corps. I just don’t think he’s a linebacker. He’s just not big enough, and it seems like he is out of position quite a bit. I like the idea of getting our best players on the field, but I just don’t see it with Harrison Smith. Everyone raves about this guy’s ability, but I haven’t seen him make a “WOW” play yet. Maybe it’s just a temporary move and he’s headed back to safety next year. If so, I can understand why they want to get him on the field somewhere. But I can’t see him as a starting linebacker for this team over the next three years when there are young guns like Darius Fleming and Filer itching to get on the field. Watching those guys out there, they just have the look (much like Ethan Johnson). They’re big and fast, and that’s what we need at linebacker.

Corners – D__ks in the Dirt!!! Robert “Montgomery” Blanton. This kid is going to be a big time star. TRUE FRESHMAN. I felt like I said those two magical words about 30 times yesterday. I agree with Pat Haden about the Shane Walton comparison for Blanton. He has a lot of moxie for a freshman.

How about these corners?? McNeil, Gray, Blanton. And that’s another ridiculously young group. There are some future pros in that group. When was the last time we could say that about ND cornerbacks??

Safeties – Death, taxes, and another great day for Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton. Nothing else needs to be said.

Special Teams – I’ll address the placekicking situation below, but let’s quickly run through other some key moments.

Anello – As always, he’s the first guy down the field ready to make a play. He has radar for the return guy.

Armando Allen – Signs of life in the kickoff return game. It seems like Armando is on the verge of breaking one for big yardage.

Then again, after watching that Georgia punt returner rip off one of the fastest punt return touchdowns I’ve ever seen, I do realize that we have a long way to go in that department before we can get to that level.

Coaching – How about Weis showing some emotion on the sideline yesterday after the Grimes touchdown?? That was awesome. It seemed like he was a) fired up that the play worked b) fired up about an incredible pass from Clausen c) fired up that this team and program had finally gotten the monkey off our back and started resembling the offense that he has envisioned. Even better was the moment at the end of the game when Corwin Brown was lighting into Pat Kuntz on the sideline. Love that type of emotion from the coaches.

Another positive to note from the coaching staff is that Weis mentioned during the postgame interview that the team had been working on fundamentals all week. Good to see. Not sure if that was the reason that the run game was much improved, but it can't hurt to stress the fundamentals.

The Grimes touchdown was a Les Miles-esque call on fourth down by Weis/Haywood. Very gutsy, and it was a backbreaker for Purdue. I loved the idea of going for the jugular there.

Two things that I also wanted to focus on that I loved from Charlie Weis yesterday.

1) Showing some faith in Brandon Walker – If you were watching the game on tv, Charlie Weis said in his halftime interview that he had confidence in Brandon Walker to kick a field goal and that he wouldn’t hesitate to send him back out there. I loved that comment. That’s what you should say as a head coach, and I thought the decision to give Brandon Walker another shot in the fourth quarter was a great move to show some faith in Walker. He needs to rebuild his confidence, and it was nice to see him hit that field goal.

2) Duval Kamara – The easiest thing for Charlie Weis to do yesterday would have been to give up on Duval Kamara after dropping that ball over the middle on 3rd down. As a fan, I was ready to throw in the towel on the Duval Kamara era right there. But Weis really showed me something yesterday when he stuck with Kamara. He will earn the respect of his players by doing that. They want Duval to live up to his potential and succeed, and Weis sent a message yesterday that he believes in Kamara by trying to get him the ball in the fourth quarter to keep his head in the game.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been VERY hard on Charlie Weis since the 2006 Michigan game. I’ve questioned him quite a few times and have wondered allowed why we appeared to be regressing during his tenure and why we didn’t seem to resemble the “hard-working, intelligent, NASTY” football team that he had promised to deliver.

Yesterday was the first time in a long time that I really felt good about the Charlie Weis era. He has always had a vision for this program, and it is finally starting to pay off.

1) Great recruiting to build depth and competition – As we are already seeing, there are talented true freshman and sophomores who are getting on the field and making major contributions. Guys like Ethan Johnson and Michael Floyd and Robert Blanton are better players than some of the veteran guys like John Ryan and Robbie Parris and Terrail Lambert. The first thing that Weis did when he came to ND was lay the groundwork for ND to become a recruiting monster, and the results are starting to show on the field. He is setting up this program to be really really good for a long time with the types of players he is bringing in. Recruiting is the life blood of any program, but it usually takes 3-4 years for those early efforts to start showing on the field.

To all the national critics who said Weis couldn’t win with his own players, where are they now?? Weis is starting to win with his own players, and his players appear to be better than the players he started with at ND.

2) Pro style offense built around the QB – As we have seen, Weis like this type of offense, and he now has the tools and depth to run it the way he wants to. As we have seen time and time again, success in college football is about talent and execution. It doesn’t matter what system you run as long as you do it well. Weis has recruited players that are comfortable in his pro style offense, and he knows this offense.

3) Athletes, athletes, athletes on defense – If you went back and looked at the athletes that we had on defense in 2005 and 2006 and then looked at the athletes we have now, there is absolutely no comparison. Guys like Blanton and Brian Smith and Ethan Johnson and Raeshon McNeil are just better talents than the Ambrose Woodens of the world.

Purdue – Just wanted to throw in a couple thoughts on Purdue. I actually thought Painter played really well yesterday. When he has time, he can find open receivers. They have a good QB, a good running back, and good WRs. The rest of that team is MAC level from the line play all the way to the defensive coaching.

By the way, how great is it that the new Purdue coach, Danny Hope, has a moustache?? That is just Purdue football in a nutshell. I was dying of laughter when they showed that split screen of Tiller and Hope both with those bold staches just out there for the world to see. Great stuff.

If I was Danny Hope, I would fire Brock Spack immediately and completely overhaul the recruiting program at Purdue. Other than a few skill positions, they have mid-major talent on that team. And their defensive schemes are so unimaginative it’s not even funny. They rarely brought pressure in that game. They certainly lack talent, but they also have a bland defensive scheme. Purdue is going to be really bad next year and possibly for a few years.

Announcing – Finally, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy Tom Hammond and Pat Haden. I don’t care what anyone says. I like both those guys, and I am tired of hearing all the grumbling about them. There isn’t a classier color analyst in the business than Pat Haden, and he is ALWAYS complimentary of the Irish and our players. He was raving about Jimmy Clausen yesterday.

Tom and Pat, you have a fan in me.

Outlook – I think ND has turned the corner as a team and as a program. It has been a dark year and half or so for ND football, but that light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve been waiting patiently for is now starting to show. This is still a very young team that may well stumble again at some point this year, but the pieces are in place. We have the skill guys to fit the Weis offense, and we are building up talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball.

Don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it’s not all that farfetched to think that this team can be 10-1 heading to USC. If we play like we did yesterday against Purdue, we can beat any of those teams on the schedule. The UNC game will obviously be huge, Pitt is probably the toughest home game left, and BC is always a tough game. Will we have a let down and possibly drop 1 or 2 of those games?? Possibly, but those three games are all winnable though.

Should we be ranked?? I see that we didn’t even get a vote in the AP poll. I know the respect is going to take awhile for this team, but we are 3-1 with wins over Michigan and Purdue. Not incredible or anything but certainly could be a lot worse. If we beat Stanford next week, I think we have a great shot at being on the cusp of the top 25 headed to Chapel Hill.

Great win for the Irish yesterday. Purdue was not a very good team overall with a terrible defense, but the good news is that we destroyed them like a good Notre Dame team should do. We easily could have put up 50+ points in that game if we had kept throwing down the field, but Weis called off the dogs in the 4th quarter (and I don’t have any problem with Weis doing that either). We pretty much did whatever we wanted against Purdue. We ran it, our WRs made plays, and our o-line blew them off the ball. That is what I expected to see in Weis’ fourth year. We should never lose to Purdue, and the good teams out there in the Big 10 (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State) go into the Purdue game looking to blow Purdue out of the building. I hope that is where we are headed.

2009 and 2010 are starting to look really bright. Here come the Irish.

September 28, 2008

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 4 (Purdue)

While many people were disillusioned following last week's performance in East Lansing, the generally accepted opinion among Irish fans and pundits was that the Purdue game would say much about the development of the team and the direction in which the program is heading. There are certainly many questions still to be answered - which team will show up on a weekly basis, will they be able to carry it over to road games, will the run game ever become a staple of the Irish offense. But its certainly clear that rebounding from a tough loss with a resounding win at home should have an extremely positive effect on the psyche of this team.


The Good

Clausen had arguably his best game at ND. 20-35 275 yds, 3 TDs. A couple ill-advised throws, one of which was almost a pick 6, but he managed the game very well and even appeared to make some solid reads and checks at the line.

The running game finally got on track, to the tune of 205 yards. Armando Allen looks like the best option in the backfield and finally showed the potential that Weis has been talking about the past two years.

Difficult to say much more about the WRs. Floyd and Tate were exceptional again, and the return of Grimes had an extremely positive effect on the passing game. His absence last week may have been more important than originally thought.

Rudolph gets better every week. Not only in pass catching, but run blocking as well. Another freshman gets his first TD.

The offensive line opened some big holes and really wore down the Purdue front in the 2nd half. An extremely promising sign for the rest of the year. Only one sack and gave Clausen ample time to throw. Clearly their best performance to date.

Perhaps most importantly, the Irish didn't turn the ball over.

The Bad

Michael Floyd is on pace to break every freshman WR record in the books. Most of those records were set by Duval Kamara last year. Its downright frightening to think how good the Irish offense would be with any production at all from the big guy from New Jersey. He's been passed by Tate and Floyd and is having a tough time getting on the field. He's got to make the most of his opportunities, but another big drop across the middle yesterday doesn't bode well for future PT. He arguably had a TD taken away from him in the corner of the end zone, and the talent is obviously there. Step it up big fella. We're gonna need you.

The Ugly

After the game, Weis commented that he was pleased to see the offense open the 3rd quarter with a great TD drive to seize the momentum in the 2nd half. Now he has to focus on getting the offense to start quicker to open the game. A quick 3-and-out, followed by a stuff on 4th down almost resulted in a 10-0 or even 14-0 lead for the Boilers. The Irish must focus on at least changing field position in the first few drives of the game to keep from digging themselves into too large a hole.


The Good

Kyle McCarthy made a TD-saving tackle on Purdue's 3rd drive, and the defense held, leading to a missed FG and keeping the score 7-0. HUGE sequence. There's no telling what happens if Purdue takes a 14-0 lead there.

Robert Blanton made the play of the game - jumping a slant route and taking the pick back for ND's first TD, tying the game at 7-7. Coming off a few failed drives and an ND missed FG, the play was huge for momentum and got the crowd back into the game.

Purdue didn't run much, but ND held Sheets under 100 yards and forced Purdue to beat them through the air.

Haden mentioned this several times throughout the telecast - while ND's blitzes didn't result in any sacks of Painter, they definitely threw a monkey wrench into the Boiler passing game.

The Bad

While the Irish did manage to get some pressure on Painter, once again they were unable to get to him to cause a big loss or even a turnover. I'd like to think this has had more to do with the offenses we've faced thus far - SDSU and Purdue both ran primarily out of the shotgun and focused on short, quick-hitting passes. MSU used mostly 3-step drops to throw slants. I imagine we'll be seeing quite a bit of this strategy in order to counter the blitzing for the rest of the year.

Terrail Lambert has provided some great moments during the Weis era - none larger than the pick-6 to take the lead at MSU in '06 followed by the INT to ice the game. But with guys like McNeil, Gray and Blanton showing their worth, I have a difficult time justifying continued PT for Lambert. Teams are clearly picking on him, usually with quite a bit of success. Play the young'uns.

I understand Weis' desire to get the 22 best guys on the field. But this thinking led to the disastrous "Travis Thomas as LB" experiment in 2006, and appears to be the justification for Harrison Smith playing OLB this year. Smith is an incredible athlete, and I love to see him coming off the corner on a blitz, but he's not a LB.

The Ugly

462 yards. Too many big plays (6 plays of 20+ yards). A bunch of killer 3rd down conversions. Still, not a bad day against that basketball on grass offense.


The Good

Several great returns by Allen gave ND some much-needed good field position.

Walker was 5 out of 5 on XPs and looked great on the 41-yard FG late in the game.

Burkhardt's kickoffs were generally better, and the coverage teams were great once again.

The Bad

The 31-yard FG miss was disappointing and almost devastating, but fortunately the McCarthy tackle and Purdue's miss kept the game close early. Hopefully the make in the 4th quarter gave Walker some much-needed confidence going forward.

The Ugly

Nothing here. Walker redeemed himself, which is all you can ask for from a young kicker. Something tells me he's going to play a big role in at least one more game this year.


The Good

Although it seemed like Weis and Co. made good adjustments at the half, they didn't change much in the gameplan. Other than the opening drive, ND moved the ball well the entire game, both in the passing and running games. Weis' decision to let Walker redeem himself in the 4th quarter should hopefully pay dividends down the road.

Weis really needed this game to prove to his critics that the program is headed in the right direction. He's still got quite a bit of work to do, but its clear the talent is there to get ND back near the top. The Irish continue to get huge contributions from the sophomore and freshman classes with a seemingly different young'un stepping up every week.

The Bad

So much is made of the 130 or so plays in the Weis offense, but its often difficult to pick out more than 3 or 4 during the course of a game. There just doesn't seem to be much creativity or innovation. Chalk this up to youth? Tough to say. We'll have to keep an eye on this the rest of the way.

The Ugly

They'll get a pass today.


Offense - ARMANDO ALLEN. 240+ all purpose yards. 134 hard-fought rushing yards. He looks like he might be wrestling away the "starting" job - hitting the hole hard, doing a great job in blitz pickups, providing the safety valve in the passing offense.

Defense - ROBERT BLANTON. The play that changed the game. Made a few other pass-breakups and displayed pretty solid tackling ability. Another freshman that looks like he's going to be a star.

Special Teams - BRANDON WALKER. Bad miss early, hit the 41-yarder in the 4th to make it a 3-score game. The Irish are sure to play in some close games the rest of the way and he's going to be an important part of any of those contests.


SHORT TERM: The blitzes finally hit home, leading to 3 big Irish sacks, one of which results in a fumble that ices away the game against the Cardinal in the 4th quarter.

LONG TERM: Armando Allen becomes the "feature" back in the Irish offense and no longer leaves Irish fans yearning for the days of Darius Walker.

September 26, 2008

Time for Weis to Go?


Harsh words from a student, and I'm surprised that this letter got printed in the Observer. If there are any students reading this blog, what is the sentiment on Weis?? I did not expect to see students calling out Weis after three games.

Then again, if we lose to Purdue on Saturday, we might have to get in touch with Michael Burdell from Stanford Hall to guest blog on on Monday (if not sooner).

Go Irish. Time to turn this season around on Saturday. A win over the Boilermakers won't make a dent on the national scene, but any chance to get to 3-1 at the end of September is a positive for this program. At the very least, getting a win on Saturday and another one against Stanford would get the critics off Weis' back for awhile.

ND The Basketball School?

Wow, looks like we are getting really close to signing consensus top 20 hoops recruit Ryan Kelly. Word on the street is that he could be ready to commit within the next couple weeks. While we already have a nice little class going with Jack Cooley and Joey Brooks, it sounds like Ryan Kelly would be a big time impact player for this program (i.e. the McRoberts/Hansborough type player).

How about this potential team in 2009??

PG - Tory Jackson
SG - Ben Hansborough
SF - Scott Martin
PF - Luke Harangody
C - Ryan Kelly

Bench: Jon Peoples, Tim Abromaitis, Ty Nash, Carl Scott

WOW. That team would be loaded at every position, and we'd have all kinds of flexibility to mix and match with different lineups. Harangody is a first team All-American type player, Tory will be a senior, Hansborough is going to be real solid, Kelly is in that Ferry/McRoberts/Laettner mold, and Martin was one of the best freshmen in the Big 10 last year. That team would be really really good.

I know he gets a lot of praise around here, but I cannot overstate how great a job Mike Brey is doing at Notre Dame. Whatever we are paying him is not enough. He took over a borderline mid-major program where the students sat during the games (if they showed up at all), and now we're going toe to toe with the best teams in the best conference in college basketball. Brey is setting up this program to be a regular contender for the Big East title for many years to come. Not only does Brey have a great eye for undervalued talent, he has built a team first mentality where the system is larger than the whole.

Notre Dame is the best basketball program in the state of Indiana right now (reread that last sentence IU and Purdue fans!!), and I think we have a great shot at becoming the Duke of the Midwest over the next ten years with Brey at the helm. It will obviously take some good breaks to get to that level, but it would be a great start to bring Ryan Kelly into the fold for the next few years.

Already fired up for basketball season. How sad is it that we're talking about Big East titles and possible Final Four appearances for the basketball program while we're just HOPING to beat the 8th best program in the Big Ten (at best) AT HOME on Saturday?? A tale of two programs indeed.

Go Crazy Corvallis!

Death, taxes, and the annual mid-season USC slump. Gotta love it!!

Where does last night's result put Penn State since the Nittany Lions beat Oregon State 45-14?? I have to think there is going to be quite a bit of noise made in State College about that game, especially if they keep winning games. Ugh.

Guess it just goes to show that you can lose to anyone in college football if you don't show up ready to play against a motivated opponent. Let's be honest, USC is getting everyone's best shot, and these conference opponents always seem to have a better read on USC than the nonconference opponents. USC will be back. Too much talent on that roster for them to play poorly for more than a couple games, and I fully expect them to start peaking again late in the year and ready to blow out whatever Big 10 team they get in the Rose Bowl. For now, I'll enjoy seeing them go down and knock themselves right out of the national title race. As far as I'm concerned, USC can lose 9 more games and it wouldn't be enough for those jacked-up steroid abusers. I still can't believe there hasn't been a performance-enhancing drug scandal at USC yet. Probably the worst kept secret in the country.

The Pac 10 currently has one team in the top 25 (USC). Ouch. Not a formula for USC to make a statement that they deserve a bid as a one loss team. What is going to be their best chance for a good win from here out?? A two loss ASU team that got plowed by Georgia and lost at home to UNLV?? An Oregon team that lost at home to Boise State?? A Cal team that lost to a mediocre Maryland team?? A Notre Dame team that hasn't looked a ton better than the 3-9 season from a year ago??

Just a guess, but I would imagine there were more than a handful of cheers last night in Athens, Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa, and Gainesville when Sanchez threw that pick in the fourth quarter. Would anyone be opposed to the SEC Championship game just being renamed as the "BCS Championship Game" this year??

September 24, 2008

Week 5 Picks - Between the Hedges

After an outstanding week four featuring that incredible game down at Auburn, we are headed back to the SEC for more exciting action this week. Your game of the week is down in Athens, Georgia between Alabama and Georgia. Should be a doozy. I've never been down there before, but I've heard some great things about Athens.

As for the Irish, after last week's debacle in East Lansing, we are facing a must-win game in South Bend against Purdue. There is certainly a lot of frustration among Irish fans about the state of the team this year, so hopefully this team comes out with something to prove against Purdue.

Matt is lapping the field in the picks contest thus far and threatening to run away it. If you are looking to gamble this week on college football, keep a close eye on his picks.

On to the picks:

Thursday September 25, 2008:

USC (-25.5) at Oregon State (ESPN 9pm) -

Dan: Oregon State +25.5

At least once, maybe twice, a year, USC plays a vastly inferior PAC 10 team and plays down to the competition. USC hasn’t played since their drumming of Ohio State, and this just feels like a potential let down game. Don’t get me wrong, the Beavers are a terrible, terrible team. USC won’t lose, but 25.5 and half points are just too much not to take the points. Note: If this were a middle of the road out of conference opponent, USC would definitely cover it easily.

USC 34 Oregon State 17

Matt: USC -25

There really aren’t too many teams in the country that USC couldn’t play ‘name the score’ with their win. What USC did to Ohio State last week might be illegal in a few states. That was just downright frightening how dominant they were. At this point, there seem to be 5 teams that are separating themselves from the rest of college football. USC, LSU, Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma in that order are, in my opinion, heads and shoulders above the competition. And I reluctantly put Oklahoma in that group because they haven’t really played anyone yet.

Doug said it and I will reemphasize it. If USC goes undefeated and doesn’t play an SEC team in the National Championship game, then it isn’t a National Championship game. I don’t care if the winner in Atlanta comes out of there with 3 losses, they’re worthy. (Unless of course Wake Forest goes undefeated.)

USC 47 Oregon State 17

Mike: Oregon State +25.5

Given USC’s close proximity to Hollywood, you would think that they would find some more creative writers to pen their annual screenplay. Instead, they stick to the same boring script every year, which goes as follows: In Act 1, they start the season focused and harness their tremendous talent edge into several impressive non-conference wins, thereby leading pundits to label them as “the best team ever” or “an NFL caliber team. Next, in Act 2, they contract severe bout of hubris and squeak out several close wins against undermanned opponents before eventually being upset. Finally, in Act 3, they regain focus and harness their tremendous talent edge into several impressive late season wins and a bowl blowout, thereby leading pundits to label them as “the best team at the end of the year.” The only question this week is whether Act 2 has begun or whether Act 1 still has another week of life. My hunch is that Act 1 will end at halftime, thus allowing Oregon State to earn the late cover.

USC 45 Oregon State 20

Doug: Oregon State +25.5

Go crazy Corvallis!! I know Oregon State has been awful thus far, but isn’t this right about the part of the season when USC starts coasting?? It just seems like they have a history of playing down to their level of competition in the Pac 10, and the Pc 10 teams usually have a better read on USC than other teams around the country.

25.5 points is a lot of points to give on the road in a conference game on a Thursday night. USC will win this game without question, but Oregon State can cover the spread if you ask me.

By the way, how about the scenario that has been floating around college football circles about an undefeated #1 USC team getting left out of the BCS title game because of weaker computer rankings?? Under this scenario, an undefeated Oklahoma and an undefeated SEC champion would supplant them. WOW. The down year in the Pac 10 along with disappointing starts for Ohio State, UVA, and ND could potentially hurt USC’s computer ranking. While I think USC should be in the title game for the boldness of their schedule alone, this type of scenario would immediately lead to outrage from college football fans and inevitably get the ball rolling on a different postseason model. Let those of us at WEISND be the first to suggest the championship belt idea over a playoff.

USC 31 Oregon State 14

Friday September 26, 2008

Connecticut (+3) at Louisville (ESPN2 8pm)

Dan: Connecticut +3

Connecticut is off to a pretty good start including wins over Temple (better than you think), UVA, and Baylor. Meanwhile, Louisville has been up and down so far. However, I generally am not a fan of favoring teams playing their 2nd week night game in a row (Louisville beat K-State last Wednesday). However, I also generally think the home team tends to be the better bet during the week too. However, the deciding factor is that I really think this Louisville team is headed the wrong way in the hurry, despite the win over K-State last week. I’ll take the points and the upset in a shoot-out.

Connecticut 34 Louisville 31

Matt: Louisville -3

Louisville looked a little reminiscent of the Petrino days last week against Kansas State, so I’m going to go with them again at home. UConn is like one of those kids in class who doesn’t really pay attention, barely even studies and does just enough to pass. I’m convinced they could play a Hartford middle school and the game would come down to a field goal.

Louisville 27 UConn 21

Mike: Louisville -3.5

In an improbable continuance of their modus operandi last season, the Huskies continue to defy the odds by winning close games every single week. Although Randy Edsall would like to convince you that his team’s tightrope act is a product of skill, rather than luck, there are plenty of folks, myself included, who believe that this undefeated Connecticut team is primed for a major reality check in the very near future. In fact, I believe that the Huskies’ big crash will come this Friday against a Louisville team that finally appears to be turning the corner under Steve Kragthorpe. Last Wednesday, the Cardinals’ offense, led by Victor Anderson, awoke from its early season slumber against Kansas State’s merry band of JUCOs. Furthermore, the addition of Ron English to the Louisville coaching staff appears to be paying immediate dividends for a defense that struggled mightily in 2007. Finally, reports this week have indicated that UConn will be playing this week without an unnamed, but presumably prominent, player (Donald Brown, perhaps?). Sprinkle in a dash of the revenge factor for Louisville after the refs cost them the game in Storrs last year and a pinch of the home crowd advantage and you’ve got a recipe for some delicious home cooking at Papa Johns Stadium for the host Cardinals.

Louisville 33 Connecticut 14

Doug: Louisville -3

Is it Big Monday or something?? Wow, this game make for a great matchup in February in Freedom Hall, but not exactly a great football game.

While Louisville has hardly set the world on fire, what the heck has UConn done this year?? They’ve squeaked out wins over Baylor and Temple and blew past a terrible Virginia team.

Louisville is picking up a little steam and finding its running game. I just can’t pick UConn to win this game on the road.

Louisville 27 UConn 13

Saturday September 27, 2008

North Carolina (+8) at Miami (ESPN2 12pm)

Dan: Miami -8

Butch Davis comes home! Do you think Butch wishes he had never left? I’ll bet he’d have at least 2 rings by now and be set as the Miami coach for life by this point. And he would have avoided that debacle in Cleveland. Instead, he finds him playing 2nd fiddle at a basketball school. That said, as I’ve already said multiple times, UNC is headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, the Yates injury is a pretty bad break for the Tar Heels, especially since they have to go on the road to face a rejuvenated Cane team. Eight points is a lot of points for a team still finding themselves after a couple years in disarray. However, I think the QB injury is just too much to overcome and Miami wins easily.

Miami 27 North Carolina 10

Matt: Miami -8

Do you guys remember The Rock’s intro or slogan or whatever: “If you smeeeeeell, what the Rock is cooking.” I don’t know why I thought of that, but that is exactly my thoughts right now surrounding the Miami football program. I don’t want to rehash everything I talked about last week, but let’s just say that last week’s 41-23 pounding of the Aggies in College Station didn’t do anything to change my mind. Please, Mr. Swarbrick, get Miami on the schedule again!

Meanwhile, the burning question regarding the UNC football program is…does Mike Paulus flop around the football field looking to draw personal fouls against the defense? I guess I’ll have to tune in to find out.

Miami 28 UNC 17

Mike: Miami -8

Is Miami football on the way back? I hope not, though I was impressed by the Canes’ ability to win convincingly on the road against another major conference team, even though their opponent was a terrible Texas A&M outfit. Javarris James did not play last week, nor will he play this week, but Miami received a solid performance from Graig Cooper and steady play at quarterback from Robert Marve. For the visiting Tar Heels, it will be interesting to see whether Butch Davis will be able to rally the troops after last week’s devastating loss at home to Virginia Tech. Carolina dominated the Hokies for 3 quarters and appeared to be well on their way to victory before they were forced to insert Mike Paulus in place of T.J. Yates. Yates will be out for at least six weeks, so Paulus, who was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game last week, must improve dramatically for the Heels to have any chance in Coral Gables. I think the Hurricane defense will rattle Paulus en route to a big conference win in a wide-open ACC.

Miami 21 North Carolina 6

Doug: Miami -8

Ok, I think it is official. Something is brewing down in Coral Gables. It’s always good for college football when Miami is relevant. The ACC needs Miami and FSU to be the anchors of that conference. The only reason the ACC is a BCS conference is because of FSU and Miami, so the league is completely worthless if those schools aren’t performing at a high level.

I didn’t watch the A&M game, but it sounds like Miami blew the Aggies out of the water. The Canes are getting their swagger back, and they should come out of the tunnel ready to put a hurt on the Heels.

Meanwhile, UNC’s great start is unraveling a bit with TJ Yates sidelined for the next 6 weeks with a broken foot. Even worse, the Heels blew a 17-3 lead against VT when Yates went down. About the only positive is that we now have another Paulus brother on our hands. I’m curious, will UNC fans embrace Mike Paulus even though his brother is probably the most hated Duke hoops player since JJ Redick?? How are UNC fans handling it?? We also have the added dynamic of Butch Davis returning to Miami. I wonder what the reception will be like.

Should be a good game down at the O.B. If UNC wins this game, they could be a legit top 20ish team. I think the Canes will roll though.

Miami 17 UNC 3

Virginia Tech (+7) at Nebraska (ABC 8pm)

Dan: Virginia Tech +7

Beamer! Beamer! All of a sudden, the Hokies can’t get any respect. Of course, they are 1-3 ATS. But they are 2 – 0 in the ACC, and that’s what matters to Beamer. However, Pelini has the Cornhuskers at 3-0 with margin of victory of 25 points (cream puff city though). I unfortunately have not had the pleasure of watching the fighting Pelinis so I am a little in the dark on this one. But I still have faith in Beamer to at least make this a close game. This is the first time the Huskers are going to face a real defense, and I think they may get off to a slow start. The spread is already moving in Nebraska’s favor and I think that Virginia Tech can keep this within a TD in a low scoring game.

Nebraska 20 Virginia Tech 14

Matt: Virginia Tech +7

This is kind of a prove-it game for Bo Pelini and Nebraska. They’ve kind of been flying under the radar, which is what playing three garbage games will get you. This starts a huge stretch for Nebraska with Missouri and at Texas Tech upcoming. Meanwhile, the Hokies have had an early season circling of the wagons after that ECU loss, beating Georgia Tech and UNC in season-saving games. I think that Tyrod Taylor has totally changed the dynamic of the team, and if the game were a day game I would probably pick VT for the straight up upset. But under the lights, with the home crowd (Mr. and Young Tom Witt included) roaring and the Blackshirts swarming, I think Nebraska eekes out a win.

Nebraska 24 VT 22

Mike: Nebraska -7

In Chapel Hill last week, the Hokies trailed North Carolina 17-3 and appeared to be dead in the water. Virginia Tech received a gift, however, when the Tar Heels lost quarterback T.J. Yates to injury and were forced to play freshman Mike Paulus, who immediately threw two momentum-changing interceptions that spurred a late Hokie comeback. This tremendous rally obscured the fact that Virginia Tech was unable to generate any consistent offense, even with Tyrod Taylor under center. Nebraska has not been tested yet, but they should benefit from an extra week to prepare for this game. I am confident that the Husker defense, under Bo Pelini, will load up against the run and force Tech to beat them through the air. In a night game at Memorial Stadium, Taylor will look like a deer in the headlights against the Blackshirts.

Nebraska 34 Virginia Tech 14

Doug: Virginia Tech +7

Let me just say this. The team that I am rooting for the most this weekend (other than ND of course) is Nebraska. Their fans have been through a lot of rough times in the last 5 years or so, and I know how passionate they are about Husker football. Nebraska needs this win badly, and I really want to see them win this game.

In many ways, Nebraska is a lot like ND in the sense that they had past glory and have been struggling with the transition to the modern game. The good news for Nebraska is that their fans still have high expectations and an understanding of what Nebraska football is all about. Bo Pelini appears to be restoring that identity of toughness and pride back to Husker football. Part of what ails ND football is that we still have no identity as a program, so there is a lot of confusion about what we are trying to become.

As far as this game is concerned, I’m expecting an ELECTRIC atmosphere at Husker Stadium, and I would imagine that the entire state has been buzzing all week. I’m genuinely bummed out that this game will not be on tv in Ohio. I fully expect Virginia Tech to cover in this game. They are battle tested, they can keep it close with their defense and special teams, and Frank Beamer knows how to win games like this one.

As for a winner, give me the Huskers in nailbiter.

Nebraska 20 Va Tech 17

Maryland (+11.5) at Clemson (Raycom 12pm) -

Dan: Clemson -11.5

Which Maryland team do we get? The one that beat California or the one that lost to Middle Tennessee State? Meanwhile, Clemson has its weak schedule since being embarrassed by Alabama. Given that Maryland has at least commanded some respect since upsetting Cal, this is Clemson’s first time to prove that the pollsters weren’t completely crazy by placing them in the top 10 at the beginning of the season. Thunder and Lightning will be fired up enough to lead the Tigers to a two TD victory.

Clemson 41 Maryland 27

Matt: Clemson -11.5

Ever since I questioned the direction of the program, Maryland has been on fire. However, I don’t see them being able to hang with the offensive firepower of Clemson. Even though Cullen Harper hasn’t been sharp yet, I still see Clemson winning big in this one. By the way, T minus 2 weeks until the biggest game in Wake Forest football history – the showdown with Clemson under the lights on a Thursday night.

Clemson 45 Maryland 17

Mike: Maryland +11.5

Following an ugly victory over Delaware and a lifeless loss against Middle Tennessee State, Maryland appeared to be in dire straits. With their head coach squarely on the hot seat, however, the Terps have responded by defeating Cal and Eastern Michigan in consecutive weeks. A new challenge awaits this week for Maryland, as they must head on the road this week to face a talented Clemson team that always seems to play well once it is liberated from the shackles of high expectations. Unfortunately for the Tommy Bowden, the Tigers’ left tackle and left guard both suffered significant injuries last week, thus further depleting a Clemson offensive line that is rapidly running out of warm bodies. Maryland still has plenty of warts on offense, but they should be able to slow down Davis and Spiller by exploiting Clemson’s patchwork front line.

Clemson 21 Maryland 13

Doug: Maryland +11.5

What a difference a few weeks make. Before the Cal game, all of us were declaring Maryland football dead and practically starting the coaching search for the next Maryland head coach. Suddenly, Maryland is streaking, and they appear to be peaking as they head down to Clemson.

While this game has a potential letdown written all over it, I feel uncomfortable giving Clemson 11.5 points against anyone. It’s a noon game, so you won’t have the craziness of playing in Death Valley at night. I’ll take Clemson to win, but keep the points.

Clemson 24 Maryland 14

TCU (+17.5) at Oklahoma (FSN 7pm) –

Dan: Oklahoma -17.5

Can the beloved Hornfrogs topple the giant again? The last time TCU came to Norman, it stunned the nation with a 17-10 victory (in 2005). Unfortunately, this isn’t the 2005 Sooner team. The Sooners have very strong lines on both sides of the ball and should be able to wear down the poor little frogs. I think the cover might be tough, but Oklahoma pulls away late to pull off the three touchdown victory.

Oklahoma 41 TCU 20

Matt: Oklahoma -17.5

Kind of an interesting game here for the Sooners. A lot of people forget that the Horned Frogs went into Norman a few years back and shocked the world by winning. Of course that was against a down OU team in a transition year. I honestly would not be surprised if this is like a 17-10 game at the half and Rece Davis is giving us game updates about an upset brewing early. Then the final score will be something like 55-13. In fact, let’s go with that.

Oklahoma 55 TCU 13

Mike: TCU +17.5

The Sooners have looked every bit as dominant as USC in the start of 2008. They will be challenged by TCU, however, which boasts a characteristically strong defense. Moreover, the Horned Frogs should be hungry for this game, given that they must win to keep their BCS busting dreams alive and further considering that they have an opportunity to knock off the #2 team in the country. Insofar as Oklahoma is contending for a national championship, there is every reason to suspect that they will be sufficiently motivated as well. The Sooners defense will be playing without DeMarcus Granger, but they should be able to limit the Horned Frogs’ ability to move the ball offensively. This game will provide some anxiety for Sooner fans, but there will be no repeat of TCU’s 17-10 opening day stunner in Norman in 2005.

Oklahoma 31 TCU 21

Doug: Oklahoma -17.5

As much as I would like to pick TCU in this game and cheer them on to a possible upset in Norman, there’s no way I’m picking against Oklahoma at home. The Sooners are a dominant team at home, their offense is most likely going to put up anywhere from 35-50 points in this game, and I don’t see TCU hanging around at that level.

While I have a lot of respect for Oklahoma and what Bob Stoops has done there (he is as good as any coach in the country and they are the premier program in the Big 12 without question), I stand by my top five with four SEC teams and USC. It’s not meant as a knock on Oklahoma so much as it is praise for the SEC. Until a school like OU shows that it can beat a team from the SEC, they aren’t in my top 5. That’s just the nature of the beast in college football. If we had the championship belt system, OU would be my frontrunner for the “Northern” belt, but that is only 1/3 of the puzzle. As it stands now, OU is probably one of the favorites to glide into the title game because they have a great shot to go undefeated. If you ask me, that is a load of nonsense. An undefeated OU team would have proven nothing more than a 1 or 2 loss SEC team, and nothing can convince me otherwise until I see OU beat one of the big boys from the SEC.

The BCS is such a sham, and I’ll be darned if I don’t hammer on this all year long. I’m officially a proponent of the championship belt system because even a playoff does not solve our woes if we ended up with a 1 loss Mizzou, undefeated OU, undefeated USC, and maybe an undefeated Penn State in a 4 team playoff. A potential 2 loss Florida or LSU team could beat all those teams if you ask me, so I don’t like the idea of a four team playoff that could potentially leave out the SEC champ. If you want to be national champion, you have to take that “Southern” belt.

Tennessee (+6) at Auburn (CBS Sports 3:30pm) -

Dan: Tennessee +6

Is Phil Fulmer on the hot seat? The days of Peyton Manning and Tee Martin are over a decade gone. Meanwhile, they have lost the last 4 to Florida and haven’t won an SEC title since 1998. I think if he can’t get this season turned around in a hurry, then next year could become a make or break year for him. Unfortunately, the Volunteers follow up last week’s debacle with a trip down to visit Auburn. I was not much of an Auburn believer until last week. I think they showed a lot of heart on Saturday night. However, I think Phil Fulmer has too much to lose in this game to go quietly into the night. The Vols manage to keep this one close, but still lose at the end. The seat gets hotter.

Auburn 21 Tennessee 20

Matt: Auburn -6

I’ve seen all I need to see with these two teams. The Vols stink. Auburn is legit (at home). Case closed. Since my lock of the millennium actually worked out, I’ll go ahead and bestow Lock Of The Week status upon this game.

Auburn 17 Tennessee 6

Mike: Tennessee +6.5

From the outside, it looks like everything is spiraling out of control for the Volunteers following last week’s home defeat against Florida. The calls for Phil Fulmer’s job continue to grow louder by the day and there is a possibility that Tennessee is growing dangerously close to a complete meltdown. Nonetheless, I am picking Tennessee again this week at Auburn. Although Jonathan Crompton and the Vols abetted the visiting Gators with porous special teams coverage and untimely turnovers, the Vols played solid defense against an explosive Florida team that possesses far more skill than Auburn. Additionally, the host Tigers could be physically and emotionally drained after losing a heartbreaker at home against LSU. Even worse, Auburn showed that it is susceptible to the running game, which spells trouble against a Tennessee veteran offensive line and star tailback Arian Foster. I think Tennessee will rally around their embattled coach and deliver a strong performance on the road before falling just short. This result, of course, will not appease the Tennessee fans, but it will fortify my wallet.

Auburn 19 Tennessee 17

Doug: Tennessee +6

Everything about this game is pointing to an Auburn rout. They played LSU really tough last week, it’s a home game, and Auburn needs a win just as much as Tennessee does. So Auburn wins this game 24-0 and leads to the internet temporarily shutting down due to simultaneous clicks on, right??

Not so fast my friend! I know Tennessee has been awful so far, but the SEC is a lot like the NFL in terms of predictability. Week to week, anything can happen in the SEC, and it always seems like there a few games a year where a team comes off the mat and plays tough when you least expect it. I think that is what we are looking at this game.

Here’s your gambling stat of the year. Tennessee is 12-0 after a loss to Florida. Phil Fulmer always seems to be at his best when his back is against the wall, and his back has never been closer to the wall than it is right now. Tennessee still has personnel, and their defense can keep them in this game if they play smart.

While I think Auburn is very good, I could see them letting down just a bit in this game. Their offense is still a work in progress, and I don’t see them winning this game in a blowout.

Just for effect, I’m calling for a Tennessee win straight up.

Rocky Top,
You’ll always be
Home sweet home
To me

Good ole Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee!!

Tennessee 17 Auburn 16

South Florida (-9) at NC State (ESPNU 7:30pm) –

Dan: South Florida -9

At this point, I am more inclined to believe ECU was a fluke than that NC State is capable of upsetting a Top 15 team. USF, on the other hand, has great defensive team speed, a real winner in Grothe. I watched that Kansas game and this is a legitimately good team. NC State, despite their win over ECU, still stinks. Throw in the gambler favorite “let down” game for NC State and I expect USF to cover the spread.

USF 24 NC State 10

Matt: South Florida -9

I don’t know what to make of this USF team. One night they are beating Kansas and looking good doing it, the next night they are sweating it out against the undoubtedly worst team in college football. I also happened to catch most of the NC State game against ECU this past weekend, and I have to say, NC State didn’t look half bad. Of course their exciting QB Russell Wilson suffered an injury and won’t be able to play this week, so who knows which NC State team will show up. I don’t think Harrison Beck is good enough to make it close.

USF 31 NC State 13

Mike: South Florida -9

After receiving its first victory of the season (and dashing East Carolina’s BCS dreams in the process), NC State will host another highly ranked opponent this week in Raleigh. The Wolfpack have proven that they have a physical, aggressive defense, but they have been doomed by an anemic offense. Last week, however, NC State was finally able to sustain drives behind a balanced attack that featured improved quarterback play from Russell Wilson and tough running from Andre Brown. In order to win its second consecutive game, Tom O’Brien’s crew will need a similarly strong offensive performance against a talented South Florida team. The Bulls are coming off a disappointing 17-9 victory over Florida International, which is one of the worst teams in Division 1. According to game reports, South Florida played with little emotion to start the game and their sluggishness was exacerbated by a scary injury to one of their starting linebackers. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that USF will play with much greater passion and energy this week against a more formidable opponent. When I first looked at this game earlier in the week, I thought that NC State would keep this game close until the very end. Since it appears that Russell Wilson will miss this game with an undisclosed injury, I do not believe that the Wolfpack have the offensive firepower to hang around for four quarters.

South Florida 28 NC State 14

Doug: NC State +9

Holy cow, did NC State take some scheduling lessons from the Pac 10?? NC State has had the toughest schedule through five games in the country. South Carolina, Clemson, East Carolina, and now South Florida. Pretty impressive effort by the Wolfpack to put together 3 quality teams in the nonconference.

Are we really sure that South Florida is any good?? They barely beat UCF and Florida International in their first two road games, so why are they a nine point favorite at NC State?? If anything, NC State could be legitimately favored in this game and it wouldn’t surprise me.

NC State is not really all that good, but I think they can cover the nine points here.

South Florida 24 NC State 20

Illinois (+14) at Penn State (ABC 8pm)

Dan: Penn State -14

Penn State’s first real test comes at home, luckily. Can you believe a rated team in the Big 10 versus another Big 10 team is a two touchdown underdog? That seems like a lot of points in the Big 10. Both of these teams are capable of scoring points in bunches when they play their best. However, I don’t think the Illini can hang with Penn State in a night game at happy valley. Juice is going to commit a couple untimely turnovers and this one will get ugly. Welcome back to reality Mr. Zook.

Penn State 41 Illinois 24

Matt: Penn State -14

Speaking of teams I don’t believe in, here’s Coach Zook and Juice Williams. They have exactly zero shot under the lights in a white out in Happy Valley. I’m not sure what to make of Penn State yet given that Mickey Mouse opening schedule, but you can’t help but be impressed with the offense so far. I think they win this one big.

Penn State 41 Illinois 17

Mike: Penn State -14

The upstart Illini managed to sneak up on Penn State in Champaign last year, but the circumstances have changed significantly. Illinois continues to hope that Juice Williams will experience a Jason Campbell-like epiphany in his junior year, but Williams remains inconsistent, notwithstanding his gaudy numbers in the opener against Missouri. Moreover, the Illini defense will be overmatched against Penn State’s dominant “Spread HD” offense led by Darryl Clark and a stable of talented running backs. I concede that the 4-0 Nittany Lions have played a weak schedule, but they haven’t even been challenged for a full quarter yet. In their Big Ten opener, Penn State will be fired up to avenge last year’s loss to Illinois, which will make for another happy day for the fans in Happy Valley.

Penn State 38 Illinois 21

Doug: Penn State -14

Brent Musberger, Herbstreit, and the boys are headed to State College this week for the primetime “Whiteout” showdown between Illinois and Penn State. Color me disappointed that I am going to get this game on tv rather than the Virginia Tech-Nebraska game. Oh well. My eyes will be on Athens, Georgia no matter what, but it would be nice to be able to see what should be an electrifying atmosphere in Lincoln.

I think Penn State may very well be the best team in the Big 10 this year, and we have seen what happens when Penn State plays at home. They are a different team at home, especially during conference play. Over/under on the number of times Kirk Herbstreit mentions this during the game: 17. Penn State has a little of that “team on a mission” feeling this year, and they appear to have all the tools: quality running game, dynamic offense, quality defense.

I’m not really sure how good Illinois is. When you are completely reliant on a guy like Juice Williams, you are probably just asking for some really inconsistent play. Illinois came very close to losing to Lousiana-Lafayette at home. 14 points is a lot in a game like this one, but I’d rather take my chances with a good team winning big at home than on a potentially bad team covering the spread on the road.

By the way, I’m already dreading the “Joe Pa resurgence” stories that are about to start pouring in. You know they are coming, and I’m bracing myself for the ESPN.commers of the world to start wagging their fingers at the rest of us for trying to shove Joe Pa to the door “too early.” I give credit to his staff for putting together this Spread HD offense and nurturing a veteran team, but the old man is a bit part in that effort. He is a figurehead, and nothing can convince me otherwise. I think Penn State might have a really good team, but I don’t think Joe Pa deserves any special credit for it. Penn State SHOULD be a good team every year. I mean, jeez, they are the flagship program in one of the richest states for high school football talent in the North. There’s no need to falling all over ourselves congratulating Joe Pa for doing his job.

Penn State 31 Illinois 10

Arkansas (+27.5) at Texas (ABC 3:30pm) -

Dan: Texas -27.5

This spread has grown since I picked Texas to cover the first time around. I still like Texas. This Arkansas team is danger of completely losing its composure. They barely beat two 1-AA teams and then were destroyed by the Rolling Crimson Tide (at home). Now they have to travel to Darrell K. Royal. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the eyes of Texas are upon them, and those eyes are going to be watching another blow out.

Texas 52 Arkansas 13

Matt: Arkansas +27.5

I don’t have much to say about this game, other than that line is just absurdly high. That’s the amount of points that a North Texas or Utep would get. If Arkansas has any shred of pride whatsoever they don’t lose by 4 td’s.

Texas 47 Arkansas 24

Mike: Arkansas +27.5

It looks like Mack Brown has been able to change the culture in Austin, which had been viewed by some outsiders as overly relaxed. Texas, unlike years past, has dominated its weaker non-conference opponents in all facets of the game in its first three games this year. The only question mark for the Longhorns is their young secondary, which features two freshman starters. Their opponent this week, Arkansas, is replete with weaknesses, the most glaring of which is its porous run defense. As for offense, the Razorbacks actually moved the ball pretty well in the first half against Alabama, but Casey Dick killed several promising drives on several occasions with terrible interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by Crimson Tide defenders. Texas will certainly score plenty of points against the Hogs, so the only issue is whether Arkansas can throw the ball with enough success against the aforementioned greenhorns in the Longhorn defensive backfield. I think the Razorbacks, despite losing soundly, will cover this enormous spread by moving the ball through the air and eliminating the catastrophic turnovers.

Texas 45 Arkansas 20

Doug: Texas -27.5

I know this line is probably way too high, but Texas is rolling. Is Colt McCoy a possible Heisman trophy sleeper?? He’s the #1 player in fantasy football right now. I know fantasy football doesn’t mean squat for the Heisman, but McCoy has officially made the leap into a star QB. I think Texas is trying to make a statement this year, and Will Muschamp has been doing some good things with that defense.

Arkansas is absolutely horrific. I just feel like this will be one of those games where Texas jumps out to a 24-3 lead and cruises in the second half.

That Texas-Colorado game in Boulder next weekend could be interesting.

Texas 49 Arkansas 10

Minnesota (+17.5) at Ohio State (Big Ten Network 12pm) -

Dan: Minnesota +17.5

Goodness. There are some big spreads in the Big 10 this week. I don’t care if it is in the Columbus or if Minnesota is not very good. Ohio State can’t score enough points to beat very many schools by 18 points, even with Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells. The return of Wells means McSweatervest will reign in the game plan and run the ball (as he should). Expect that to lead to a relatively low scoring, but easy victory for Ohio State. But not a cover.

Ohio State 24 Minnesota 13

Matt: Ohio State -17.5

Ugh, I would stay away from this game with a ten foot pole if I found myself in Vegas where gambling is legal, of course. It appears that Boeckman’s OSU career is about done barring an injury to Prior. And even though it was 14-10 in the 4th quarter against Troy, Prior made some things happen with that offense. Doug could better speak to feeling around that program right now, but from what I heard there were plenty of good seats available for that Troy game. You have to think the players are down on themselves with the USC loss still lingering. I’ll take Prior to make it happen and get the cover.

Ohio State 31 Minnesota 10

Mike: Minnesota +17

After a humiliating 1-11 season last year, Tim Brewster has already quadrupled his win total in 2008, albeit against a pathetic non-conference schedule. The Golden Gophers, who were an unacceptable -15 in turnover margin in 2007, have benefitted from a +11 turnover margin in just four games this year. While this turnover differential is obviously unsustainable in the long run, the Gophers have also shown some encouraging signs, especially on defense. Meanwhile, the Terrelle Pryor era is officially underway in Columbus, as the young QB threw four TDs last week in place of the deposed Todd Boeckman. It is unclear whether Beanie Wells will return for the Buckeyes this week, although I suspect that he will sit out another game with Wisconsin looming on the immediate horizon. Although Minnesota does not have the talent to hang with the Buckeyes on the road, they will battle this week against an Ohio State team that does not appear to play with any real emotion or desire. This discrepancy in motivation, coupled with Pryor’s inexperience, will be enough for the Golden Gophers to cover this spread.

Ohio State 28 Minnesota 14

Doug: Minnesota +17.5

Believe it or not, this is somewhat of an intriguing game. I’m hoping to get down to the Ohio Stadium area and pick up a cheap ticket on Saturday for this one and then scurry over to a sports bar for the ND game.

I’ve been killing Minnesota and Tim Brewster on this blog, but they have actually surprised me and have played really well so far. They lost to Florida Atlantic last year, but they absolutely destroyed them this year. Throw in a dominant performance at Bowling Green, and Minnesota might be the biggest surprise in the Big 10 so far.

Why is Minnesota having some success all of the sudden?? Two words: THE SPREAD. The spread offense is becoming to college football what the three point line was to college basketball. It is the great equalizer. If you can run the spread, you can have a good offense in college football at just about any school. Look at some of the schools that have been pouring on points in recent years: Missouri, Kansas, West Virginia, Oregon. Not exactly a who’s who of powerhouses, but they have produced dynamic offenses with the spread. Minnesota has suddenly found an offense with QB Adam Weber and RB DeLeone Eskridge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have a good year with this new offense.

As for the Buckeyes, the Terrelle Pryor era is underway, and there is no turning back. I only caught the highlights of the game, but he looks like he is going to be a dynamic player who is a little streaky in the early going. It will be interesting to see how Pryor mixes with Beanie Wells since those two players are geared toward different styles of offense. Beanie is allegedly going to be back in the lineup this week (thank god for my fantasy team), so we’ll get to find out right away how that tandem looks. At the very least, Pryor gives this team a little bit of swagger and confidence. Even though he is very young, Pryor is a confident guy who seems to rub off on his teammates in a good way. I think it was the right move to go with Pryor, and it will eventually pay off for this team next year (if not sooner).

Ohio State’s defense still hasn’t found a rhythm, so this game could serve as an opportunity for them to get it in gear defensively. They even had some problems stopping Troy, so there is a lot of angst in Columbus right now about the Ohio State defense. With a big test in Madison looming next weekend, time is running out for the Ohio State defense to start coming together.

Minnesota fans, let this post serve as my bowl of crow for dogging Tim Brewster in the offseason. They have impressed me so far, and I think they can keep it close in Columbus. Of course, if they lose 35-0, I am going to disregard this apology and return to knocking around the Gophers.

Ohio State 28 Minnesota 17

Colorado (+5.5) vs Florida State in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (ABC 3:30pm) –

Dan: Colorado +5.5

So much for that revival. Many people were ready to crown Florida State as ready to return to the top of the ACC (especially given the weak competition). Then they scored 3 points against Wake Forest. Ouch. The question now is whether or not the Seminoles can circle the wagons or if they’ll fall apart like a late season Purdue team. There is something about this Colorado team that I like. They are scrappy, like the Boise State teams of old. Granted, they may only have won that game against West Virginia because the Mountaineers managed to hire the only coach in the country that might be worse than Willingham. Nevertheless, I kind of like the program Hawkins is building there after watching a bit of that game last week. I think Colorado can keep this one close. I don’t think Florida State is going to rebound this year, but they may eke out a close one here. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Buffaloes pull off the upset, but I’ll settle for a cover here.

Florida State 21 Colorado 17

Matt: Colorado +5.5

I really can’t believe that Florida State is favored in this game. Did I miss something? They were AWFUL against Wake last week. 7 turnovers?! Ponder and Richardson, although down the road promising, are just not good quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the Hawkins coach and QB tag team has Colorado rolling. I like Colorado to straight up win.

Colorado 24 Florida State 14

Mike: Colorado +5.5

Despite their effort to set offensive football back about 100 years last week, the Seminoles are somehow 5.5 point favorites over a Colorado squad that continues to improve under Dan Hawkins. The Buffaloes defense appeared to be at an athletic disadvantage last week against West Virginia, but they were able to slow down the quicker Mountaineers by playing suburb 3rd down defense, particularly in short yardage situations. Florida State is a mess at QB, regardless of whether they decide to play Christian “We’re Not Going to Lose to Wake Forest” Ponder or D’Vondrey Richardson. In a similar game to last year’s 16-6 slugfest in Boulder, both teams will struggle to grind out points. Barring a surprise appearance off the bench from 9th year senior Drew Weatherford, however, the Noles’ abominable duo at quarterback will gift wrap this game for Colorado by making crucial mistakes.

Colorado 17 Florida State 10

Doug: Colorado +5.5

While I am a little leery of taking Colorado coming off a big win over West Virginia, I cannot pick Florida State in this game after watching them against Wake Forest. They are an abomination on offense. Their offense consists of two stonewall running plays up the middle followed by a desperation heave down the field. In other words, they have zero offense. Their quarterback play is horrific, and that team is so careless with the ball. FSU was like a turnover machine in the Wake Forest game. They are the epitome of the undisciplined college football team. They started out with Christian Ponder, and he quickly proved that he is awful. Then they turn to this D’Vontrey Richardson dude, who was only marginally better. Call me crazy, but I don’t think I’d trust my offense to some guy name D’Vontrey. I don’t know why any recruit would ever consider going there as long as Bobby Bowden is running that program.

And yet they are favored in this game!! Seriously?? How does FSU continue to get so much respect (yes, I know I am the fool who picked them to win last week)?? I just can’t take FSU to win this game, so give me the Buffaloes and the points. This is a big game for Colorado, and I think the coaching matchup favors Dan Hawkins in a big way.

By the way, how does Jacksonville get all these great neutral site games?? What is so great about Jacksonville?? They somehow have landed the Cocktail Party, the Gator Bowl, and usually one or two other quality nonconference games a year. I went down there for the Gator Bowl in 2003 for the ND-NC State game. The overall trip was a blast (I did meet my wife there after all), but the Gator Bowl and Jacksonville leave a lot to be desired.

First of all, Jacksonville was a complete dud as a city. I have since learned that there are more fun places to go closer to the water in Jacksonville, but we were told to go downtown to “The Landing” by some locals. It was basically like a mall food court with beer, and the bars were ok at best. From what I can tell, the only reason Jacksonville has any type of major events is weather because everything else about JVille is mediocre at best.

I don’t see any reason why a city like Cincinnati or Louisville or Indy couldn’t host a neutral site college football game in the early fall every year that would put the Jacksonville events to shame. One of the best times I’ve ever had was a neutral site Ohio State-Cincinnati game at Paul Brown Stadium in late September 2002 followed by the downtown Oktoberfest festival. Just a great day all around, and I would love to see Cincinnati do something like that every year for college football.

Colorado 23 FSU 21

Wisconsin (-6.5) at Michigan (ABC 3:30pm) -

Dan: Michigan +6.5

So it’s come to this? Michigan a touchdown dogs at home to the Badgers! And yet, my first inclination when I saw this line was, “That’s it?”. Part of me expected an even larger spread. However, the more I think about it, I think this UM team is developing. I think the defense is better than they played against ND. I think Threet is showing some signs of promise and McGuffie is a player. I think they can keep it within a TD at home thanks to a low scoring game. Barely.

Wisconsin 20 Michigan 14

Matt: Michigan +6.5

Excuse me for not buying into the Wisconsin hype just yet. The voters really think that Bucky is the 9th best team in the country? I don’t know about that one. I know that Michigan is bad – I saw it with my own two eyes two weeks ago. I just think that Rich Rod might have something with the Threet – McGuffie combo. I’m not ready to call for the upset, but I think Blue gets a cover.

Wisconsin 27 Michigan 21

Mike: Michigan +6.5

Even though Wisconsin is the better team here, this does not seem to be a favorable matchup for them. The Badgers rely exclusively upon a power running game, but it could be tough sledding for P.J. Hill this week against a tough Wolverine front four. On the other side of the ball, Michigan’s young offense finally showed some signs of life against Notre Dame and they should benefit from an extra week of practice. This game should go right down to the wire.

Wisconsin 23 Michigan 20

Doug: Michigan +6.5

Interesting Big 10 game. I know that Illinois-PSU is supposed to be the feature Big 10 game of the week, but I’m more interested in Michigan-Wisconsin.

As crazy as it sounds, I was actually more impressed with Michigan two weeks ago than I was with Michigan State last week. While Michigan State was very sporadic and took advantage of great field position to put points on the board, Michigan moved the ball all over us even from horrible field position. Defensively, we hit some big plays on Michigan, but that is still a pretty stout unit.

Michigan is a very young team still adjusting to the new offense and new coaching staff, but I think they might have discovered themselves a little bit against ND. Threet is not a great QB by any means, but he can make some plays with his arm. I’d take him over Brian Hoyer any day of the week. My feelings on McGuffie are well known at this point, so I think Michigan has a little bit of momentum going on offense.

Probably the key to this game for Michigan is going to be taking care of the football. The spread offense (especially when you have so many inexperienced players) is conducive to turnovers, and Michigan cannot afford to put the ball on the ground in this game.

Wisconsin is your typical Wisconsin team (strong running game, strong defense, average QB), and that formula is usually not geared toward blowout wins on the road. This game is going to be close, and I really think Michigan has a great shot to win this game. If they beat Wisconsin and get a little confidence, look out.

As for the Big 10, here’s how I’d rank the top five of the Big 10 through week 4:

1) Penn State
2) Wisconsin
3) Ohio State
4) Michigan State
5) Michigan

Maybe I’m buying into Penn State a little too much, but I think they are for real. The spread offense with a talented team can be a beautiful thing to watch, and Penn State appears to be thriving in this offense. Penn State has a veteran line, veteran skill guys, and a quality defense. I don’t see anyone else in the Big 10 with all three of those things going for it.

Alabama (+7) at Georgia (ESPN 7:45pm) –

Dan: Alabama +7

Alabama may be the hottest team in the country, trouncing all of its opponents so far. Of course, Georgia is playing some good football at the moment too. This game plants two gambling dichotomies against each other. SEC Home team vs. a large spread between two highly ranked SEC teams. Even for a home team, 7 points is a large spread to be favored by. Throw in the Nick Saban factor, and I like Alabama to cover. I don’t think they are quite ready to go between the hedges and defeat the Bulldogs, but I like them to keep it within in a touchdown.

Georgia 24 Alabama 20

Matt: Alabama +7

I know I predicted last week that Georgia would come out of this weekend with a loss, but I reserved the right to change my mind, which is what I have done. It’s a night game, between the hedges, and Georgia is busting out the black jerseys. They are not losing. Period. The Battle Hymn of the Republic will be cranking all night long. After LSU-Auburn last week, I really can’t wait for this game. The loser should move up in the polls. (Two random question for any University of Georgia readers: How did that song come to be affiliated with UGA, and why with just about every SEC school having hedges on the field does UGA get to be the official “between the hedges”)

UGA 31 Alabama 27

Mike: Alabama +7

Another week, another fantastic menu of games in the SEC. Hopefully I won’t be too intoxicated and depressed from the Notre Dame game to miss what appears to be the game of the week. Last week, Georgia’s defense suffocated a strong Arizona State offense, while Alabama produced a myriad of big plays on both sides of the ball at Arkansas. Each team possesses a strong running game, a veteran quarterback, a dependable defense and great coaches. Although the game will be played at Samford Stadium, I believe that both teams have an equal chance to win. As such, I’ll take the points.

Alabama 24 Georgia 21

Doug: Alabama +7

WOW, Game of the week in the SEC, which also means game of the week, period, in college football. Georgia is gearing up for the game with a “Blackout” between the hedges on Saturday night. Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge are gearing up as we speak.

Is Alabama as good as they’ve looked so far?? Well, I’m not sure, but they are already creating the blueprint for Alabama football during the Saban era. Very physical, attacking, dominating line play on both sides of the ball, and great speed at the skill positions. They are going to be what LSU is right now.

As for Georgia, how good is this A.J. Green guy?? He looks like Randy Moss reincarnated. Very impressive, especially as a true freshman. How good is the freshmen wide receiver class this year?? Between Julio Jones, Michael Floyd, and AJ Green, there are quite a few guys who are going to be playing on Sundays in 3-4 years. How would you all rank those three?? I think we’ll find out a lot more this week.

The sky is the limit for this Alabama program. I have a feeling that Bama is going to be destroying everyone in the SEC in a couple years. I think Saban will have a national title ring in his hands within the next 3 or so years.

Mark Richt is an outstanding head coach, and I know that Georgia will be ready for this game. I just feel like Alabama has arrived, and I’m taking the upset.

Roll Tide!!

Alabama 20 Georgia 17

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

Dan: Notre Dame

Can I abstain? I hate picking us. It pains me to do it. Part of me things we are really just as bad as we were last year, and the UM game was a fluke stroke of luck (aka getting spotted 21 points). But last year, as one of the worst teams in Division I football, we put up over 400 yards against the Boilermakers and almost came back from a big deficit. I think Weis tells Haywood to forget about the running game and just start chucking. We throw all day long against an overmatched Purdue secondary. Tate and Floyd have will big games. Meanwhile, on defense, we continue to give up big running plays, particularly on draws and misdirections with Kory Sheets, now in his 7th year in West Lafayette. But Painter continues to have a disappointing year against our secondary. Painter really misses the playmaker he had last year in Selwyn Lymon. In the end, ND will end up winning a surprisingly easy game.

Notre Dame 31 Purdue 20

Matt: Purdue

I don’t know what to believe when it comes to this Notre Dame team. They’re like George Costanza – eating onions but also spotting dimes; who knows which team they really are. If we come out fired up at home like we were against Michigan and set the tone early, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to handle Purdue. On the other hand, if we play like we did against Michigan State, then it could be a long afternoon. I refuse to give up on the run just yet – I’m not willing to live in a world where we are the Texas Tech of the Midwest. That’s not the way you freaking win. LSU or USC would never resort to that stuff. I’m hoping to see a running game this weekend, and I hope to see some new running plays because obviously whatever is in the playbook isn’t working. I’m not going to give a score, so as not to disclose whether I think the Irish will pull out a nailbiter or embarrass themselves with a home loss to the Boilers.

Mike: Purdue

As evidenced by my pick last week, I expected Michigan State to beat ND. What I did not expect was for Notre Dame’s offensive line to regress to its dismal 2007 form. It has become patently obvious that Charlie Weis lacks the ability to construct an offense that can sustain drives on the ground by simply imposing its will on the defense. Despite having a stable of highly recruited tailbacks and an offensive line with greater size and experience than last year, the Irish remain incapable of running the ball against smaller, less talented opponents such as Michigan State and San Diego State. While the media loves to celebrate the tactical aspects of the game and attach the “offensive genius” label to coaches, football is a much simpler game than the fans are often led to believe. Unless Weis realizes that football is played in the trenches and not on a chalkboard, his tenure in South Bend will not last much longer.

In the short run, Weis is at a crossroads. He can scrap the ineffective running game in favor of a more wide open passing attack, thereby maximizing the talents of Clausen, Tate and Floyd, or he can recommit himself to the ground game against a Purdue defense that is extremely susceptible to the run. Regardless of Weis’s approach this week, there are too many explosive players on this Notre Dame offense to expect another inept performance against an undermanned opponent.

On defense, I have been pleased with the hustle and intensity that the players have shown under coaches Brown and Tenuta, but I am concerned with their inability to pressure the quarterback. The defense will need to improve in this department this week if they intend to succeed against a Purdue offense that features a dynamic senior running back in Kory Sheets and a talented, but mistake prone, quarterback in Curtis Painter.

Purdue will be jacked up to send coach Wilford Brimley into the sunset with one more win at Notre Dame Stadium in his final season as Boilermaker head coach. The Irish will produce more big plays on offense than they did in East Lansing, but they will hurt their defense again by failing to control the clock. Accordingly, Sheets and company will wear down an undersized Notre Dame front line, which will open up the passing game for Painter and Purdue’s talented wide receiver Greg Orton. In addition, Purdue will outplay the Irish on special teams, which will be the difference in a tightly contested affair. Another disappointing loss beckons and Weis will remain the target of intense scrutiny heading into next week’s game against Stanford.

Purdue 28 Notre Dame 27

Doug: Notre Dame

I know Irish fans are bummed out about the performance of the team against a deeply flawed Michigan State team and feeling gloomy about the season. I know Michigan State is the 4th or 5th best team in the Big 10 at best that is going to be exposed for shoddy quarterback play and a shaky secondary at some point this season, and yet they soundly beat us. I think ND is just barely one of the top 50 or so teams in America and that our ceiling this year (even if we win all of our remaining games up until USC) is probably in the 20-25 range, and I agree that we’d be a 6-6 team at best if we played in the SEC. I get all that, and I can understand why fans are frustrated already.

But it’s freaking Purdue!! Purdue!! This is a "pick em" game?? Good god, I think this line should be ND -7.5 at worst. Purdue is the 8th best team in the Big 10, and even that spot is borderline generous for them. Purdue has been steadily bringing in recruiting classes ranked in the 50s and 60s over the last 4-5 years. They aren’t anywhere near as talented as Michigan State (which has only top 30ish talent at best). Purdue doesn’t stop the run, and they don’t stop the pass. Their line play on both sides of the ball is at the mid-major level. They have a couple decent skill players and Painter can move the ball, but everything else about Purdue is MAC level. The worst Notre Dame team in history was moving the ball against them fairly easily throughout the game last year. Purdue is a bad football team in every way. Are we bad as well?? I cannot say that for sure, but we certainly are capable of playing well with the talent that we have on the roster.

Keys to this game:

1) Performance in the red zone and 3rd down - In terms of being able to move the football, there probably is not that big of a difference between Purdue and Notre Dame this year. They are going to be able to move the ball between the 20s on us as they do every year. Painter will make some nice throws, they’ll hit some big runs on draw plays to Kory Sheets, and they’ll probably have stretches where they make us look really shaky on defense. But college football is all about punching it into the end zone for touchdowns. Purdue’s offense typically grinds to a halt in the red zone because their receivers can’t make plays in tight spaces and they can’t punch it in on the ground. The key for Purdue in this game is going to be to find a way to score points in the red zone. I am expecting Tiller to pull out all the stops in this game since it is his last against ND.

As for the Irish, the key for our offense in the Weis era has been 3rd down conversion and red zone efficiency if you ask me. Because of our shaky running game, we have a lot of 3rd and short type situations in every game. How many times have we have this type of series?

ND ball at the 40

1st down – 2 yard run
2nd down – 5 yard out pass
3rd and 3 - convert and the drive stays alive or we punt

It seems like our offensive performance lives and dies with those situations. We need to find a way to keep drives alive against Purdue because they are not a good defensive team.

Even more importantly, this offense is going to have to find some other ways to score in the red zone besides “Clausen takes a three step drop and hurls a fade into the end zone.” While that play has been effective to some degree, teams are going to start sending safeties to the end zone to try to pick those balls off (we already saw MSU doing it a bit).

I think this game will come down to a field goals vs. touchdowns situation. Both teams are going to move the ball. The team that wins this game is going to be the team that converts in the red zone and on 3rd down.

2) Turnovers – Turnovers are going to be huge in this game, so we are going to have to avoid being careless with the football. Purdue is not a good defensive team, so I have no doubt that we will be able to move the ball on them. However, turnovers in the red zone would be killers.

I expect our defense to be fired up for this game, so a few Painter interceptions would be big in this game.

3) Five wides – While I think we will try to run the ball on Purdue, I don’t have a problem with moving quickly to the five wide formation and throwing it on Purdue if our base offense is not working. We threw the ball all over Purdue in the hurry up last year, and I have no doubt that we can do it again this year. Their defensive line is terrible, so I think Clausen will have time to get into a rhythm and hit his receivers. There is no one on the Purdue roster who can cover Michael Floyd or Golden Tate, so I expect those guys to have huge days. We are comfortable in this 5 wide no huddle offense, so let’s just go with it.

For the record, I would obviously love to run a balanced offense and find some room on the ground against Purdue. We actually ran the ball very well against them in 2006, so we are capable of doing that again this year.

4) Special Teams – As always, special teams can play a factor in any college game, so hopefully our return and coverage units are ready to roll this week. It would also be nice to convert our first field goal attempt of the year in this game.

5) Talent – I know talent isn’t necessarily a key to this game, but ND has such an overwhelming talent advantage in this game it’s not even funny. Floyd and Tate are going to be open all day in this game, and Clausen should have plenty of time to throw. Golden Tate had his breakout game against Purdue last year, and I think we will be able to hit some big plays to him again this week. There is NO ONE one Purdue who can stop Golden Tate. NO ONE. We need to find ways to get him the ball.

We are much bigger than Purdue, and I think our defense will get some pressure on Painter. For all his stats at Purdue, Painter has never beaten a decent team in his entire career, and his own fans don’t even want him starting anymore. The back seven of our defense is very talented, and we should be able to keep Purdue out of the end zone for the most part.

6) Intangibles – Who needs this game more?? While I know Purdue is going to be fired up playing their last ND game for Coach Tiller, ND simply cannot afford to lose this game. It is a home game, we should be fired up, and we are coming off a disappointing loss. There is no excuse to lose to a bad team like Purdue. And I’ll repeat that. Purdue is a bad football team. There is no reason to fear a team like Purdue.

I have no idea where our heads are at, but we’ve been very unpredictable at home during the Weis era. There have been some games where I expected an inspired performance at home and we lay an egg (i.e. 2007 USC, 2006 UCLA, 2005 MSU, 2007 MSU) and other games where we have come out like gangbusters at home (2008 Michigan, 2006 Penn State, 2005 USC), so it is tough to say how we are approaching this game.

ND needs to take this season one game at a time. Our fans are constantly looking ahead and talking about how great we’ll be in two years. Even Charlie Weis gets caught up in it with his “Get your shots in now” nonsense after the BC game last year. What other fanbase is doing that?? Are Alabama fans talking about how great they’ll be in 2014?? No, they’re fired up to beat Georgia this week. Stop talking about 2010 or 2009. We’re Notre Dame for crying out loud. We should have the goal of being great every year.

I am so tired of all the “7 wins would be fine with me” nonsense. When did that become the standard at Notre Dame??? The dilution of expectations at Notre Dame is an embarrassment if you ask me. When did we turn into Purdue?? We have guys on the bench who wouldn’t even consider going to Purdue. We have the talent to win every game left on the schedule other than USC, and I am going into every game with the expectation of winning.

I think ND comes out with something to prove on Saturday, and they win by double digits over Purdue. NO EXCUSES.

ND 31 Purdue 17

Last week:

Dan: 7-8-1
Matt: 10-5-1
Mike: 6-9-1
Doug: 9-6-1


Dan: 14-14-2
Matt: 36-23-2
Mike: 31-28-2
Doug: 32-27-2