September 29, 2011

Notre Dame v. Purdue - Bang the Big Drum Slowly

Night game atmosphere in West Lafayette should bring out the best of the loyal Purdue denizens in their poor excuse for a big-time stadium, Ross-Ade.  Will it be enough for the Boilers to keep up with the winning streak Fightin Irish on the field...

Dan: Notre Dame

Purdue is +1 against D1 opponents this year on scoring margin. And those two opponents are Rice (loss) and Middle Tennessee (win). That is not a good start for the boilers. They may have creamed D-1AA opponent Southeast Missouri State. Notre Dame has no excuses this week. Big win for the Irish. 
Notre Dame 31 Purdue 13
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Not the prettiest win, but it was great to see Tommy Rees lead another big-time 4th quarter drive, and the defense pin their ears back and get after the QB to ice the game.  At this point, it seems like the great rush defense that defined the 4-0 end to 2010 is legit.  The ND front seven is extremely good defending the rush, and they've faced some pretty solid rushing offenses this far. Bodes well for some of the teams that ND will be facing in the next few weeks, including Purdue, Air Force and Navy.  
With all the turnovers and mistakes so far this year, its really difficult to predict a blowout with any confidence, but I do really think that the Irish are on the verge of a breakout game that could get them rolling towards the second half of the season.  
ND 34  Purdue 13
Jimmy: Notre Dame
Climbing back above .500 will be a welcome sight.  Purdue will find moving the ball an uphill battle.    A couple odds and ends courtesy of the SB Tribune's Eric Hansen show the Irish defense is playing darn good ball: ND defense has allowed 1 rushing TD all season, and that was the immaculate fumble recovery by Denard Robinson, a cruel result they certainly didn't deserve.  In their last 9 games, going back to last year's Tulsa game, the defense has allowed 2 rushing TDs total, tops in the NCAA over that span.  With the evil rash of turnovers afflicting the offense, Te'o and his men have answered the bell admirably.  Despite short fields and little recovery time, ND's last 9 offensive turnovers have only yielded 2 field goals.  Otherwise, the defense has earned the ball back by punts or turnovers.  Quite the accomplishment.  This is all a long way of saying the Irish stuff the Boilers and minimize opportunities to bang the world's largest drum.  Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray enjoy big nights and Mike Floyd reminds the nation that he's a top NFL prospect. 

ND 36  Purdue 17
Mike: Notre Dame
The 2011 Irish are becoming mighty predictable.  Sticking with the usual script, Notre Dame’s defense will stifle the Boilermaker running attack, which has been able to feast on terrible competition.  It is unclear whether Robert Marve or Caleb TerBush will start at QB for Purdue, but the Irish front seven should be able to pressure either signal caller into some mistakes.  Hopefully, the coaching staff will rely upon said front seven and resist the urge to bring slow developing corner blitzes on 2nd and long in the red zone, as they did last week.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue will likely attempt to replicate the game plan employed by Pittsburgh:  pinch up on the wide receivers to take away the underneath patterns, double team Mike Floyd and dare Rees to throw over the top.  I think the Irish will do a better job countering this approach, although you can certainly expect more interceptions and fumbles for Rees, whose leash is longer than the Great Wall of China.  Special teams should be its usual disaster too.  
Again, the Irish will let a less talented team hang around before eventually pulling away.  Purdue is perhaps the worst team in the Big Ten, so this game should be a cakewalk for Notre Dame, but nothing seems to come easy for this team.   In addition, the task will be complicated by the usual county fair-like atmosphere at Ross-Ade Stadium (led by the self proclaimed World’s Largest Drum!), where the Irish are just 3-4 in their last 7 visits.  My goal?  To avoid breaking my TV in a blacked out fit of frustration.
Notre Dame 28 Purdue 27
Phil: Notre Dame
Before I get started on the pick, lemme give a big shout out to my cousin Peters Drey, who will be starting on the OLine for the Boilers, and a large contingent of Mobile's Lebanese clan will be on hand to watch the match, including my little brother Matthew.  While I will be cheering for the Irish to get the win, I hope "little" cuz Peters wreaks havoc on the Irish D Line, at least for most of the game.

Onto the pick, I find the Irish lovably frustrating. We show flashes of brilliance at times, with Wood and Floyd and Lynch, and yet, we still make the same ol' bonehead mistakes that have become so commonplace since Lou left. I have no doubt we should come out and dominate Purdue, but I know that it will not be that way. I think the Boilers will play inspired football, and really give us a run for our money.

I have an analogy for Notre Dame football, and it ironically is likened to Irish hoops. During the Big East regular season, our "fundamental" white boys are able to get good looks, control the tempo, play solid basketball and take advantage of mistakes, thus landing us high in the ranks for the regular season. However, when the NCAA tournament comes, there is a heightened sense of urgency. Teams play with a little extra passion, a little extra fire. Now, when Abromaitis had 0.9 seconds to release his jumper in regular season play, he now has only 0.5 seconds, and the result is a miss. For the Irish football team, every game is like a tournament game. We get every team's maximal effort and I do not think we are the point we can overcome such effort, without playing our best football. I hope we get there someday.
Irish 26 Boilers 17

September 28, 2011

WeIs Roundtable Week 5 Picks: Break Out the Welcome Mats Edition

Lots of welcomes will be exchanged this weekend, though they will come in the form of physical, non-verbal salutations as opposed to genial "Willkommen" declarations.  It's a veritable BCS mixer in Week 5.  

Nebraska, meet the Big 10.  You guys should get along swimmingly.  Big 10, meet Husker Nation, the friendliest invading band of fans since Leif Ericson's gang became NFL fans. 

Texas A&M, meet the object of your wandering eye, the Southeastern Conference.  Arkansas, try and show the Aggies a good time.  And by good time, Mike Slive means keep them out past curfew, get them drunk on moonshine, make out with them if the mood strikes, but above all, show them who's boss on the field.  

Will Muschamp, meet the real SEC. Sure you notched your first two conference wins vs. a transitioning Tennessee and a "Midnight Madness is just around the corner" Kentucky.  Now you get back to back weeks of Alabama and LSU.  Be sure to wear sunscreen under your microscope.  

Skip Holtz, meet the conference you should dominate for the next decade, or however long the Big East keeps the tattered remains of a football conference alive. 

Apologies to the ACC and Pac-12 for not making the picks cut this week.  The Pac-12 looks uber top heavy with Oregon and Stanford, with two competitive teams a couple rungs down in USC and Arizona State.  The rest are a muddled group of offensive minded, yet sieve-like defenses that would all give up 60 to Boise State.  Maybe Utah joins USC and ASU in the scrappy tier.  As for the ACC, we were sick and tired of picking Clemson wrong, going a combined 2-8 the last two weeks on the Dabo Sweeney Fall Tour of Surprises.  Does Tajh Boyd stay on his torrid pace in hostile Lane Stadium?  Or is Saturday the Tigers' day of reckoning in the form of Beamer Ball?  I digress.  Let's get to the featured games from our crack staff of prognosticators:

South Florida (-2) @ Pittsburgh
Dan: USF (-2)  Lock of the Week
Thursday night home dog? That is almost a formulaic pick, but throw it out. Having watched both these teams this year, it is clear to me that USF is significantly better than Pitt. Pitt came out with a good defensive plan that befuddled the Irish, but a tough loss on Saturday, a short week, and a much more athletic QB will be their downfall. I also don’t think Pitt can avoid turning the ball over 2 weeks in a row. USF continues their road to the West Virginia match-up unbeaten. 
USF 27 Pitt 17
Jeremy: USF (-2)
After watching both of these teams plays against the Irish, I think I've decided that USF is the far superior team.  Pitt really looked miserable last week, even if they did manage to slow down the Irish offense and Michael Floyd.  I'm taking the Bulls,  although they haven't played anyone of note since winning in South Bend.  I fully expect to see the ESPN Bottom Line read Pitt 24 USF 10 late in the 3rd quarter on Thursday.
USF 23  Pitt 13
Jimmy: Pitt (+2)
South Florida's bubble is due to pop.  They've averaged 53 points vs. their last 3 opponents, none posing any sort of challenge.  Now they travel north on a short week to Heinz Field.  Hopefully Pitt fans show up in better numbers for a night game as opposed to the early start ND game.  Todd Graham is a capable coach who will have more success than his Wanstachian predecessor.  Don't ask me why I like this Pitt team to win, because I don't.  Maybe I'm giving the Thursday night home team too much credit.  Maybe it's a misguided gut feeling.  But here's hoping Ray Graham rumbles for a couple bills and takes the wind out of the Bulls' sails.

Pitt 27  USF 26
Mike: USF (-2)  
Having seen both of these teams in action against ND, it’s hard not to pick USF.  The Bulls have followed up their win at South Bend by steamrolling a series of undermanned foes and they seem poised to seize control of the Big East this year.  Conversely, Pitt is still licking its wounds after two difficult defeats, so motivation could be an issue on a short week.  USF is a solid play here.
South Florida 33 Pittsburgh 28
Phil: USF (-2)  Lock of the Week
If Vegas had asked me to make this line, I would have envisioned something more along the lines of USF minus 7. Pitt's crowd was atrocious; then again, the Irish were fortunate to win. Is Pitt better than we thought. No, they aren't USF should win comfortably. 
USF 24 Pitt 16
Texas A&M (-3) vs. Arkansas (Arlington, TX)
Dan: Arkansas (+3)
Time for the Razorbacks to bounce back after the embarrassing performance last week. After the “Goodbye, see you later” game from Oklahoma State, the Aggies are in for an embarrassing Welcome to the SEC”  match-up this week. A&M is about to recede back into the lower half of a conference and slowly drift into irrelevancy. Sorry 12th man. 
Arkansas 24 A&M 20
Jeremy: Texas A&M (-3)
A bit ashamed to be taking all the favorites, but the Hogs did not impress last weekend.  Glad to see a solid non-conf game this "late" in the year.  Good SEC West preview for the future.  
Texas A&M 31  Arkansas 24
Jimmy: Arkansas (+3)
Bobby Petrino gets to extend the first official "Welcome to the SEC" message to the Aggies.  The Razorbacks were outclassed in every way last week vs. Alabama as Tyler Wilson feared for his life with every time drop back.  This week will be a different story, evidenced by Brandon Weeden carving up A&M's secondary like a Christmas ham.  Arkansas gets their mojo back and delivers a rousing victory in a thriller.  

Arkansas 38  Texas A&M 34
Mike: Arkansas (+3)
These two teams appear to be evenly matched, though Arkansas seems to have a slight edge in personnel, particularly in the trenches.  The Hogs are also getting points in this neutral site matchup (and, as an aside, I assume that Arkansas fans will travel well to Arlington for this game), so I will side with Arkansas.  There is always an additional level of comfort when selecting an SEC team in a non-conference game.  Either way, this should be an entertaining early afternoon affair.
Arkansas 34 Texas A&M 30
Phil: Arkansas (+3)
Arkansas looked very pedestrian against Bama last week, I imagine most teams will this year. Tex A&M inexplicably lost a huge lead against a rival at home (where have I heard that before? #28-27)  I am truly not sure how good either team is, but I forsee lots of scoring. I'll take the current SEC West team against the future team.
Arky 34 Tex A&M 30

Nebraska (+10) @ Wisconsin
Dan: Wisconsin (-10)
Ten point dogs! Welcome to the Big 10 Nebraska. I think Wisconsin is legit this year and is going to show Nebraska just what an explosive offense truly looks like. Unfortunately for the Huskers, the black shirts are not going to be up to the task of slowing down the Badgers. Nebraska will get its points, but it won’t be enough for the cover, let alone the win. 
Wisconsin 38 Nebraska 24
Jeremy: Wisconsin (-10)
Shocking to see Nebraska a 10-point dog, even on the road.  Even though this will be Wisconsin's first test (check out that non-conf schedule for the Badgers - what a joke), I think they're legit, and Russell Wilson has to be considered the Heisman front-runner at this point, right?  Camp Randall is going to be nuts for this one.  Looking forward to it.
Wisconsin 34  Nebraska 17
Jimmy: Wisconsin (-10)
I'm a Black Shirt apologist and have faith Nebraska will be contending for Big 10 titles for the next couple decades.  But the Badgers are playing at an extremely high-level of efficiency, even if their level of competition has been blah.  Russell Wilson is capable of throwing the team on his back and leading drives IF they stray from their bread and butter battering ram attack of James White and Montee Ball.  Despite this being Wisconsin's first real defensive test, I like their unit to be more effective than what Nebraska has shown thus far.  Giving up 38 points to Washington and 29 points to Fresno State were not the dominant efforts expected from Jared Crick & Co.  

Nebraska's traveling Sea of Red will blend in with the Grateful Red faithful into a visual bloodbath in Camp Randall.  It's going to be an electric atmosphere much like last year's game vs. #1 at the time Ohio State.  Bring on the 5th quarter.

Wisconsin 44  Nebraska 31
Mike: Nebraska (+10)  Lock of the Week
Wisconsin is receiving copious amounts of love from the national media and the gambling public, but are the 2011 Badgers really significantly better than their predecessors?  From a recruiting standpoint, it’s not like Wisconsin has been setting the world on fire, so I suspect that Wisconsin still lacks the athleticism to match up with elite teams.   Furthermore, while Russell Wilson is a nice addition, he wasn’t exactly considered to be an upper echelon quarterback prior to his arrival in Madison.  
On the flipside, I think Nebraska is a bit underrated.  Although the Blackshirt defense has struggled to a degree, it is reasonable to expect immediate improvement given Bo Pelini’s track record and the return of Jared Crick this week.  On offense, Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead should be able to exploit the Wisconsin front seven on the ground.  I’ll call for the outright upset here.
Nebraska 38 Wisconsin 31
Phil: Nebraska (+10)
Color me a believer in the Badgers and Heisman candidate Russell Wilson. You may remember this summer when Russell  chose the Badgers over Auburn, citing their experience on the O-Line and perceivable easier road to the BCS. Man do I wish we had him, the threat of him running would give a little extra space for Dyer and McCalebb, and the Tigers might look better this year...Wait, what game our we talking about? Right, the Badgers....Great defense, great offense, at home. I look for them to win, but maybe not by 10 points. Welcome to the Big 10 Pelini. 
Wisconsin 31 Nebraska 23
Alabama (-5) at Florida
Dan: Alabama (-5)
Ouch, road favorites are in vogue this week. However, I bet against Alabama last week and they reminded me why they are the class of the SEC until proven otherwise (excepting LSU for the moment). Florida, meanwhile, has looked pretty impressive scoring in bunches against a relatively weak slate of opponents. I expect that trend to reverse this week in a relatively low scoring game. Despite the low score, Alabama has enough talent on defense to win by a touchdown.
Alabama 17 Florida 10 
Jeremy: Alabama (-5)  Lock of the Week
I can't believe I picked against the Tide last week.  Will never happen again, Lord Saban.  I swear it.  Fully expect to see the Tide defense roll all over Charlie Weis' offense.
Bama 27  Florida 10
Jimmy: Alabama (-5)  Lock of the Week
Watching Bama decimate Arkansas last week was impressive.  Sure, the Swamp is a tough place to play, but the Tide is on a mission to earn back what they lost in 2010.  Charlie Weis' surprising rushing attack will be bottled up by playmakers all over Bama's side of the field.  AJ McCarron is growing into the role of game manager, picking his spots and playing error-free ball while relying on the two-headed monster of Treddie Richardcy.  This line could be 10 points and I'd still pick Saban.

Alabama 27  Florida 16
Mike: Alabama (-5)
This seems like a lot of points to lay for a road night game against an athletic Florida team that has been impressive in the early season, but I like the matchup for Alabama.  The Gators, under OC Charlie Weis, have relied almost exclusively on their running game to move the ball (note:  not a misprint), thereby taking all of the pressure off Jeff Brantley, who struggled badly in 2010.  Alabama should be able to force Brantley to take to the air by slowing Florida’s stable of mighty mite running backs, which is a certain recipe for disaster for the Gators.   Look for Will Muschamp to receive his indoctrination into big time SEC football from the master, Nick Saban.
Alabama 27 Florida 20
Phil: Florida (+5)
What a matchup! I predicted earlier in the year that the Gators would win the east, and they have looked good thus far. Our old pal Chuck has plenty of speed and weapons at the skill positions, and thier D Line has 4 future NFL stars. The game is at the swamp and I feel that the strong Gator D line will pressure McCarron. My hatred for Bama is well documented, but I honestly think that Weis will have a good offensive game plan, and the Gator D can slow down Bama's run game. War Eagle....err Go Gators.
Florida 24 Bama 21
Bonus Picks: 
Dan: New Mexico State (-2) @ New Mexico
The battle for the Land of Enchantment (seriously, I had no idea until I looked it up on Wikipedia) State always promises to be an epic battle of mediocrity. But two points is not nearly high enough against an opponent that just lost to a 1-AA opponent and had its head coach fired for 1) Sucking 2) having an alleged 19 year old wanna-be walk-on get a DWI in his (the coach’s) car. The battle for the worst team in D1 is won (through losing) by the Lobos easily. 
New Mexico State 27 New Mexico 10 
Jeremy: Michigan St. @ OHIO ST (-3)
Would love to see the Spartans knock off the Buckeyes to boost ND's profile, but there are just too many problems on that MSU offensive line.  The OSU offensive attack is still sputtering a bit, but that front seven is still pretty solid, and I think Kirk Cousins is going to be spending quite a bit of time on his butt.  
OSU 24  MSU 13
Jimmy: Georgia Tech (-10) @ NC State
NC State looked downright incompetent against Cincinnati last Thursday night.  When did the wheels fall off on Tom O'Brien's program?  Maybe when he gave Russell Wilson an ill-fated ultimatum.  In any event, the Wolfpack have gone 0-4 against the spread with another bad loss to Wake Forest.  Paul Johnson's triple option attack is clicking on all cylinders right now and there's no reason to think the Ramblin Wreck doesn't rack up another 500+ yards of offense.  

Ga. Tech  47  NC State 23
Mike: Texas @ Iowa State (+10)
Texas seems to be developing an offensive identity with Case McCoy and David Ash, but the Longhorns were too bad last year for me to conclude that all is well in Austin.  Meanwhile, the undefeated Cyclones have shown enough signs of life to suggest that they will be a live home underdog, as they were last year in games against Texas Tech and Nebraska.  ISU won at Texas last year and they will put a scare in the Longhorns before eventually falling just short.
Texas 26 Iowa State 24
Phil: Auburn (+11.5) @ South Carolina
Homer Alert! 
What are the Tigers doing? How is it possible that the OL and the DL are this atrocious? Can anyone explain why Dyer is not getting the ball? Why can't we tackle? Who is the bespectacled imposter on the sidelines, and where the hell is Gus Malzahn? 
Lots of questions surround this year's Auburn team. While I did not expect a repeat of last year, I also did not expect us to look worse than Utah St and FAU. South Carolina has a badass RB, a monster at WR, and a beast of a D-Line. This could get ugly, and quick. Spurrier loves beating the tar out of Auburn, and the revenge factor is present after we dismantled them in the SEC title game. 
But hold the phone! I have faith in our team and our coaches that we will show up and put forth a good effort and make tackles and Gus will kill his evil twin brother and get back to his genius playcalling. War Eagle for life, win or lose, lets hope we get a win this week, because October is brutal for the boys.
Auburn 33 South Carolina 28

Last Week
Dan: 5-1 (+ Lock of Week)
Jeremy: 5-1 (-)
Jimmy: 4-2 (+)
Mike: 3-3 (-)
Phil: 3-3 (+)

Season to Date
Dan: 14-9-1 (4-0)
Jeremy: 14-9-1 (1-3)
Jimmy: 12-10-2 (3-1)
Matt: 2-4 (0-1)
Mike: 11-12-1 (1-2-1)
Phil: 8-14-1 (2-1-1)

September 22, 2011

Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh - Building Momentum

Dan: Notre Dame
Just when I’ve given up on the team, they come back and dominate a game. Last Saturday was a blast. Tailgating weather was perfect, grill was fired up, sun was shining, and Aaron Lynch was dominating Spartan O-Linemen. The offense did not have its best game, and turnovers continued to plague the Irish (CATCH A PUNT!), but it did not matter. The defense was incredible. Michigan State’s longest rushing play was eight yards. Eight! 

Pittsburgh is in a rough spot. They almost lost to Maine 2 weeks ago, and gave up a 24-3 lead in the second half last week. Notre Dame’s offense should bounce back against a weak Pittsburgh secondary, and the defense should continue to dominate, particularly if it can contain crossing routes and TE Hubie Graham over the middle. 
Notre Dame 28 Pittsburgh 13
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Even though there were still some frightening moments (I'm looking at you, John Goodman), the Irish dominated the Spartans last Saturday, never relinquishing the double digit lead they built before the half.  The defense appears to be finding its footing, and its fantastic to see ND rolling multiple defensive lines without any drop in production whatsoever.  
Seems like Irish fans are just going to have to get used to the fact that Tommy Rees' maturation is going to include a goodly amount of turnovers, some more soul-crushing than others.  ND will be going up against another stout defensive line, so it could be slow going on the ground for the Irish.  Brian Kelly has done a great job with ND's opening offensive series in each of their first three games, so it would be a surprise if ND got off to a slow start on Saturday.  Opponents have found quite a bit of success through the air against the Panthers, and I would expect Eifert and Floyd to have big days.  The Irish jump out to another lead, and rely on their defense to close out the game strong.
ND 27  Pitt 10
Jimmy: Notre Dame
Can’t remember ever feeling better about a 1-2 team.  The turnover machine that is 2011 ND football didn’t thwart every opportunity for victory, and the defense created some TOs of their own, none bigger than Robert Blanton's nail in the coffin pick.  At least one CB is up to the task of guarding someone.  Aaron Lynch announced his presence in a BIG way.  He and Tuitt will continue to get valuable minutes in the D-line rotation, a luxury that ND hasn't had in a while.  Speaking of impact freshman, how about George Atkinson following his blockers perfectly and running untouched to pay dirt.  Time will tell if BK unearthed a diamond-in-the-rough returner for the next 4 years, but some production is better than nothing at all in the return game.  The unit should be brimming with confidence now that they CAN help the team.  

Absolutely love how Cierre Wood attacks the seams created by the big uglies.  He's the complete package, with Jonas Gray as the bigger load mix-up back nobody wants to see.  From a mental and emotional standpoint, last week's win was ginormous.  BK and the team could finally exhale and breathe normally with win #1 under their belt.  The boys should play quite loose.  It comes down to execution.  If they play close to error-free ball, this won't be close.  But with this year's track record, that won't happen at the snap of a finger.  I expect a couple more maddening turnovers/brain farts before the Irish pull away in the end.

ND 33  Pitt 17
Mike: Notre Dame  
Despite last week’s win, the turnover issues persist for the Irish.  Some observers have commented that Notre Dame could be a top tier team if it can correct this problem, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the turnovers are a trend, not a fluke.  Tommy Rees continues to make his share of good decisions and impressive throws (the touchdown pass to TJ Jones was a thing of beauty), but his propensity to turn the ball over persists.  Accordingly, I expect several more turnovers this week at Pittsburgh.
Having said that, the Irish are clearly more talented than the Panthers at almost every position.  Like Rees, Pitt’s QB, Tino Sunseri, is turnover prone, so the Panthers tend to rely heavily on their standout running back, Ray Graham.  Iowa’s defense held Graham in check last week, however, and the Irish defensive front should be able to repeat their dominating performance against Michigan State against an overmatched Pitt offensive line.  On the other side of the ball, Cierre Wood and Michael Floyd will likely encounter little resistance from the Panther defense, which melted down last week in Iowa City.  I expect another game with plenty of frustrating moments, but, ultimately, an Irish win is in store. 
Notre Dame 30 Pittsburgh 23
Phil: Notre Dame
What a difference a week makes! It was so nice to see us run, block, tackle, and for the most part, hold on to the football. Rees looked pretty sharp and Cierre Wood has really impressed me this year. The defense has been good all year, save for 1 disasterous quarter against Michigan (still waiting for Gary Gray to tackle that receiver in the end zone), but they were especially nasty against Sparty.
Enough with the accolades. How frustrating was that win!?! Just a tantalizing tease of our talent if we don't play boneheads. Now, we have seen what a good squad we have, only to realize that the season is practically lost (at least for our expectations) and we again find ourselves looking at next year. It sickens me, and I am hopeful that BK will learn from this problem, and 1)never play Crist again 2) erase all the entitled feelings in our locker-room and bring a focused football team ready to compete week in and week out. This week, the brunt of our focus belongs to Pitt.
ND 38 Pitt 16

WeIs Roundtable Week 4 Picks: Let the Shakedown Process Begin

Thank goodness we have some games to dissect and enjoy to take our mind off the realignment maelstorm swirling around the college football universe.  But before we get there, what would another day be without a new conference applicant?  Today finds East Carolina responding to the Big East's vacant bedroom Craigslist ad, hopeful they get glowing recommendations from their hostel mates in the open-door policy Conference USA.  

Back to the games - four solid top 20 matchups with several other conference gut-checks.  We'll learn a good deal about who means business and who's just window shopping this season.  On to the picks:

Oklahoma State (+3) at Texas A&M
Dan: Oklahoma State (+3)
Great afternoon football game, even though I am sure the announcers will spend more time talking about conference realignment (I am already so tired of this story), than the game on the field. Sherman has the Aggies rolling early this season, but Oklahoma State has had better competition so far. I will take that experience, the recent consistency of the Cowboys, and the points in this match-up. 

Oklahoma State 38 Texas A&M 35
Jeremy: Oklahoma St. (+3)
The matchup of two Big XII media darlings  who haven't managed to win any games of serious consequence in the recent past.  Should be a fun game to watch as both teams can put up some serious offense.  Even though they're on the road, I think the Cowboys have the better talent and I'm taking them to win outright.
Oklahoma St. 38  Texas A&M 31
Jimmy: Oklahoma State (+3)
I'm buying what Mike Gundy is selling.  Weeden, Blackmon & Randle are pure dynamite.  And the offensive fireworks will come in droves.  I just don't think the Aggies can keep up, even with the 12th Man advantage in Kyle Field.  You gotta imagine all Big 12 teams will play TAMU with a little extra motivation for getting greedy in jumping ship to the SEC.  It doesn't matter that every other member is in panic mode looking to secure a conference safe haven.  A&M is painted as the bad guy ruffling all of their feathers -- okay, maybe just Baylor.  

If all else fails at halftime, Gundy can rally his team with a "Remember the Alamo" type speech to lay a final whooping on those Agriculturists and Mechanicalites on their way out the conference door.  That, or deliver the patented Gundy motivational speech.  ("This was brought to me by a mother...of children" -- never gets old and you hear something new every time).  I wonder how often his players cut jokes about that.  I digress.  Cowboys win in a shootout.   

Oklahoma State 63  Texas A&M 60 2OT (why not?)

Mike: Texas A&M (-3)  Lock of the Week
Both teams have started the season with their usual pattern of beating up on undermanned non-conference opponents.  Without any true tests thus far, therefore, it is difficult to gauge whether either of these teams will live up to their considerable hype.  After last year’s contest in Stillwater, I was favorably impressed with A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who was able to slow the high powered Cowboy offense, albeit in defeat.  DeRuyter should be able to replicate his effort again at home and the improved A&M offense will encounter little resistance from the Oklahoma State defense.
Texas A&M 44 Oklahoma State 28
Phil: Oklahoma St. (+3) 
Anytime I can get the likes of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon as an underdog, I like my chances. Both guys are way too experienced to get rattled on the road, even if it is the SEC worthy, rowdy "12th man" of College Station.  Texas A&M has firepower itself, but I like the Pokes in this high scoring Big 12 affair.
OK St 48  TAMU 44
LSU (-6) at West Virginia
Dan: LSU (-6)  Lock of the Week
Six points is not enough. I figure the Tigers will only need couple TD to get the cover. Their defense alone might hand them that, and surely their relatively meager offense can find the endzone once or twice against a big east defense. 

LSU 23 WVU 6
Jeremy: LSU (-6)
The Bayou Bengals have already shut down one explosive spread offense this year but this game in Morgantown could present an even greater challenge than the Ducks.  I just can't pick against the SEC here.
LSU 24  WVU 17
Jimmy: West Virginia (+6)
Too many points for what figures to be a truly inhospitable atmosphere for LSU with Gameday on campus and an 8pm start.  The Mountaineer faithful will be booze-fueled (and will keep fueling in the stadium) and hellbent on making Jarrett Lee's night miserable.  Geno Smith will have his hands full creating offense where Chris Relf and Darron Thomas have struggled.  But Smith relies more on his versatile receiver options than his ground game.  Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney should spring for some big plays to make this an ultra-exciting contest.  Still like Les Miles to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the end, but it will come down to the wire.

LSU 23  West Virginia  21
Mike: West Virginia (+6)
Having watched LSU’s dominating performance at Mississippi State, it is hard to imagine that there is a better defense in the nation.  Under new coach Dana Holgerson, West Virginia’s offense appears to be hitting its stride, but the Mountaineers will almost surely struggle to move the ball against LSU.  On defense, however, West Virginia looks to be characteristically solid with longtime coordinator Jeff Casteel remaining at the helm.  I expect the Mountaineer defense to hold LSU in check, thereby allowing them to cover the spread in another tight defensive victory for the Bayou Bengals.  As a final note, can you imagine the scene in Morgantown for a night game with these two fanbases?  Good Lord.
LSU 16 West Virginia 13 
Phil: LSU (-6)  Lock of the Week
LSU has delievered as my lock of the week twice already this season, and I see no reason that it shouldn't continue. I was interested to see Thursday night how Miss St looked against the LSU D, hoping that it would prove Auburn's D was not so porous.  Sadly, the Bullpups could barely manage a first down against the bayou bengals, and then to follow suit, Auburn's D was horrendous 2 days later at Clemson. I like Geno Smith at QB, and I'm sure Holgerson will have some tricks up his sleeve, but at the end of the day, LSU is entirely too talented, and they always get up for the big game.  They will pound the rock on the ground, use play action, and I look for the return of Russell Shepherd to ignite some big plays. LSU is the real deal.
LSU 24 WVU 16

Florida State (-3) at Clemson
Dan: Clemson (+3)
FSU feels a bit in disarray after last week’s game. If E.J. Manuel doesn’t play, then the Seminoles are in big trouble. Even if he does play, if his shoulder limits his mobility, FSU could struggle on this trip to Death Valley. I was pretty surprised with Clemson’s performance last week, and think threaten to win the ACC this year. 
Clemson 21 FSU 17
Jeremy: Clemson (+3)
This pick is mainly based upon the assumption that EJ Manuel will be at least somewhat limited on Saturday.  FSU looked amazing flying all over the field last weekend against Boomer Sooner, but this is a classic letdown game, with a Clemson team primed to make their second big statement in a row at home.  
Clemson 20  FSU 17
Jimmy: Florida State (-3)
From a mentality perspective, one team is riding an emotional high after knocking off the defending champs while the other is licking their wounds from a hard fought prime time loss on their home turf to the #1 team in the country.  To make matters worse, FSU doesn't know how much pain QB EJ Manuel will be in as he tries to help the team in returning.  The emotional component is what sets the college game apart from its pro counterpart.  I don't think it can be overlooked in this game.  The Seminole defense did a pretty remarkable job limiting the high-powered Sooners offense.  Tajh Boyd better not think he'll be repeating last week's career performance.  FSU should be able to contain Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington.  This should be a slugfest, but I still like Jimbo Fisher's team to rebound on the road.

FSU 19  Clemson 13
Mike: Florida State (-3)
Clemson just scored an enormous win over Auburn and now they get to face a wounded FSU team that just lost a physical game during which their starting QB was injured.  Will the Tigers show some killer instinct and seize control over their destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division?  I doubt it.  Look for Tajh Boyd to take a big step backward this week against a talented FSU secondary, which will allow the Seminoles to grab a big road win in their conference opener.
Florida State 24 Clemson 17
Phil: FSU (-3)
This is perceived as a big game, as Clemson is off a win over the defending champs, and FSU postponed its return to the top after being beaten by Oklahoma at home. Those who have visions of Clemson knocking off the Seminoles need to slow down. The ability to tackle by the Noles will be vastly better than Auburn, and I can almost guarantee that Tahj Boyd will not again look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. Although, if Clemson can pull the upset, Sammy Watkins needs to touch the ball early and often. Either way, I like the Noles.
FSU 30 Clemson 21

Arkansas (+13.5) at Alabama
Dan: Arkansas (+13.5)
This line feels just about right, and is probably the toughest call for me. Alabama may win this by two touchdowns, but in the end I just can’t lay 13.5 points in a touch conference match-up like this.
Alabama 28 Arkansas 17

Jeremy: Arkansas (+13.5)  Lock of the Week
Petrino vs. Saban is always a great matchup.  This is just too many points, even in Tuscaloosa.  
Alabama 23  Arkansas 17 
Jimmy: Alabama (-13.5)  Lock of the Week
Until I see the Tide not dominate an opponent, I’m expecting the Sabanator to keep rollin.  Arkansas may hang around for a little bit with Tyler Wilson's multi-faceted arsenal.  But Bama can pound the ball with Richardson and Lacy and limit Arkansas' possessions.  They may not completely manhandle the Razorbacks, but they'll win decisively.

Alabama 37  Arkansas 20
Mike: Alabama (-13.5)
Arkansas, led by first year Tyler Wilson, has been impressive on offense in the early season, but they are about to experience an extreme class jump against the Crimson Tide defense.  I suspect that the Hogs are a tad overrated and I believe that a dominating defense can take any offense out of its comfort zone, so I am expecting a major step back for Wilson and the Razorback offense this week.  Alabama should be able to run the ball effectively at home as well, which will relieve some pressure on A.J. McCarron and Philip Sims.
Alabama 30 Arkansas 7
Phil: Arkansas (+13.5)
Bobby Petrino has had this game circled since Ryan Mallet puked away his two TD lead at home for the Hogs last year. I am optimistic that he has something special planned and that he will have a good game plan upon his arrival to T-Town. This will be the best team Bama has played this year (lets face it, Penn St is brutal) and we will really get to see how good that D is, and more importantly, how good AJ McBrodieroy is. I don't know if Bobby P can get the big win on the road, but I am sure as hell rooting for him.
Arkansas 23 Bama 20

Bonus Picks
Dan: Oregon (-15) @ Arizona
Contrasting directly with my commentary on Alabama v. Arkansas above, I like the Ducks in a fairly large spread to cover on the road. Oregon may have gotten manhandled against LSU, but back home on the west coast, they are in charge. Arizona is in the midst of a brutal stretch (Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, USC), and has lost by an average of 25 points in the first two games of that stretch. I expect their woes to continue with the Ducks in Tucson for the rout. 
Oregon 38 Arizona 14

Jeremy: North Carolina @ Georgia Tech (-6.5)
After a lackluster 2010, the Yellow Jackets seem to have fallen off the map a bit.  Paul Johnson is still one heck of a coach, and this isn't near enough points for Tech's explosive offense at home.
Ga Tech 31  UNC 20
Jimmy: Rice @ Baylor (-19.5)
Really like Art Briles and the Bears to keep mauling the patsy portion (TCU excluded) of their schedule.  Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright and Terrance Ganaway are a lethal trio that feasts on weak defenses.  The Bears program hibernated for a looong time.  Consistent offensive fireworks highlighting Heisman hopeful RGIII is the quickest way to impress voters and change the program's perception.  In the process, I'm riding Griffin's coattails and enjoying fantasy stalwarts Wright and Ganaway on my squad.  

Baylor 56  Rice 26
Mike: Western Michigan (+13.5) @ Illinois 
This is the ideal set of circumstances for a classic Zooker game:  Illinois is undefeated, ranked, coming off a big win and facing a well coached MAC opponent with enough ability to spring an upset.  I will not be surprised if the Broncos win this game outright.  
Western Michigan 24 Illinois 23
Mike’s BONUS BONUS PICKS! (Not for standings (unless successful))
Georgia @ Mississippi (+10) 
Battle of two embattled coaches here.  I think the Rebs will rally around the Right Reverend, Houston Dale Nutt, and play the role of frisky home underdog.
Georgia 28 Ole Miss 24
NC State (+7.5) @ Cincinnati
Another underdog play for your Thursday night.  The Pack stubbed their toe in the conference opener against an underrated Wake Forest team, but they should be able to hit their stride offensively against Cincinnati.  
Cincinnati 35 N.C. State 31
Phil: Vandy (+16) @ South Carolina 
What a week for the Commodores! After forcefully relegating Ole Miss to the SEC cellar (pending their matchup with defenseless Auburn), they now find themselves (only) a 16 point dog to South Carolina. Progress! USC struggled with pesky Navy (I have seen that somewhere before), but ultimately had the smarts to ride the Lattimore train to victory. (wish Auburn would feed Dyer the rock like that). I think that they will take notice of Vandy's success and not get caught sleeping for the 2nd week in a row, but I also think that Vandy is not a bad team.
South Carolina 28 Vandy 21

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

Season To Date:
Dan: 9-8-1 (3-0)
Jeremy: 9-8-1 (1-2)
Jimmy:8-8-2 (2-1)
Matt: 2-4 (0-1) 
Mike: 8-9-1 (1-1-1)
Phil:5-11-1 (1-1-1)