Friday, September 30, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

I must warn anyone who is thinking of using my respectable record thus far as justification for taking my picks to the bookie. October is here, and so is playoff baseball, which means I might watch one college football game a week in earnest. Oh well, bettor beware I suppose. Home teams in CAPS.

Texas A&M (-2.5) over ARKANSAS (neutral site - Cowboys Stadium)
It is technically a home game in Arlington, TX for the Razorbacks, but in actuality this should turn out to be an Aggies party. The Hogs were outclassed by Alabama last week, while A&M had a more respectable showing (albeit, still a losing one) against Oklahoma State. Despite the karma of Arkansas playing at JerryWorld and making the day of one of their proudest alums, the Texas A&M defense should be more than enough to cover this one.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-10) over Auburn
The ol' Ballcoach must be salivating over the chance to let loose on Auburn's miserable pass defense. I picked against the Gamecocks last week because they tend to play down to their opponents, but this is a chance to avenge last year's two losses to Auburn, and despite the Tigers being Cam Newton-less these days, I still think that means something. Even Stephen (see what I did there?) Garcia should make a day of it early, then Marcus Lattimore can put it away late. South Carolina by two touchdowns.

VIRGINIA TECH (-7) over Clemson
Thanks to two straight big wins by Clemson, the line here is quite manageable. I have a feeling that the pendulum will swing back in the other direction for the Tigers in Blacksburg, which is still an extremely tough place to play, especially for ACC opponents. Until the tradition is bucked, ride Beamerball and Virginia Tech's in-conference success. Oh, and the Hokies' stellar defense doesn't hurt either.

Alabama (-3.5) over FLORIDA
It takes a lot for someone to back a road favorite in a night game at The Swamp, but for my money Alabama is still the best team in the country and Florida is still maybe a year away from getting back to the top of the mountain. Either way, this game should be close-fought and relatively low-scoring, but wholly entertaining all the while. Something has to give in this meeting of potent offenses and suffocating defenses. My gut says the Tide pull out a late touchdown drive and take it by a score along the lines of 17-10.

Nebraska (+10) over WISCONSIN
The line here is a bit fishy, almost so high that you have to take Wisconsin just because. The Badgers hold the edge in most statistical categories and have the atmosphere under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium on their side, but are they really 10 points better than Nebraska? I understand that Russell Wilson has the ability to take this game over by himself, but if he doesn't, there's no reason that Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers can't keep this a one-score game in Madison.

Last Week: 3-2-0
Season: 11-8-1

5 for Saturday

I went 1-4 last week and couldn't even remember who I picked.  This comes without even consuming actual moonshine in West Virginia last weekend.  Well at 7-13 on the season you might as well call me McDonald, aka mush.  There is a long way to go but I will take a winning week at this point.


Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (-3) JerryWorld Noon ESPN

Well I lost picking both teams last week but at least A&M choked in the second half so there's that.  Here is an SEC preview matchup for next year and probably something that develops into a decent rivalry between bordering states.

Auburn @ South Carolina (-10.5) 3:30 CBS

Asking for the Gamecock to win by more than 10 may seem like alot of points to give, but Auburn's D has ceded alot of points to everybody this season so the Gamecocks should be able to score 40 points.  Something tells me that after last years beatdowns that Auburn provided, Spurrier won't have any problem stepping on Chizik's throat.

Clemson (+7) @ Va Tech 6PM ESPN

You might as well chalk this up as a lose because if you bet on Clemson your asking for it.  However, it seems that this mistrust of Clemson is built into the line.  Clemson is getting a full touchdown on the road and they are trying to keep their momentum rolling, nobody every knows what Clemson is going to do but I'll take the points.

Alabama @ Florida (+4.5) 8PM CBS

I have gone back and forth on this one but A.J McCarron has to prove he can play on the road in the SEC before I can back him hear.  Florida should at least be able to hang tough and keep this a game deep into the 4th.

Nebraska @ Wisconsin  (-10) 8PM ESPN

If your not going to be watching baseball, you shouldn't miss this one.  It should be a shootout on the ground. 600 rushing yards for the game wouldn't shock me.  I'm banking on their being enough points in this one to create seperation.  Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraska get ready to take a few lumps.

Friday, September 23, 2011

5 for Sunday

Week 3 in the NFL, and as widely expected, nearly every team in the league has shown cracks and had bouts with sloppy play and injuries, thanks in large part to the abbreviated offseason and preseason this past summer. In layman's terms, nothing's really changed - 80% of the teams in the league stink. Home teams in CAPS.

NY Giants (+9) over PHILADELPHIA
Mike Vick will most likely be playing, which partially explains the 9-point line. The Giants have looked no better than average in their first two games and enter this one still a very banged-up team, which does the rest of the explaining of the 9-point line. The Eagles have six straight wins against the Giants and some will say they have their number. In my opinion, the Giants' strength (running the ball) plays well against the Eagles' weakness (tackling, as evidenced by Michael Turner last week). However, say goodnight if the Eagles get up by two scores quickly. To have a chance to win, the Giants need to use the clock as their 12th man and let Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw try to gut the Eagles' defense. A healthy Osi Umenyiora would be a big help for the Giants, but no one's holding their breath. Still, I'll take the 9 points because it's 3.5 too many.

NEW ORLEANS (-4) over Houston
Are the Texans ready for prime time? We'll know a lot more after this game in the Superdome, and to their credit, they have a Wade Phillips defense working for them, the same man that was responsible for derailing the Saints' run at a perfect season two years ago. Wait, I didn't just praise Wade Phillips, did I? My gosh did I seriously just say that? The Saints kept on ticking last week on their home turf, and likely will not have to deal with Arian Foster for the Texans (although to be fair, Ben Tate has been no slouch in his place). It would take a lot for me to bet against the Saints at home, and despite Andre Johnson's likely 150-yard game in this one, the Texans aren't enough to make me do that.

SEATTLE (+3.5) over Arizona
The way the Seahawks have played so far, I can't believe I'm doing this. But they get a soft Cardinals team in their home opener that is giving up a whopping 466 yards of offense per game. The Seahawks do have a good home field advantage and Kevin Kolb may experience some more of the growing pains associated with being a full-time starter. Neither of these teams is really any good, so take the home dog and hope for the best.

Atlanta (+1.5) over TAMPA BAY
I'll go on record and say that I still like this Tampa team, but Atlanta showed a lot last Sunday night in coming back and beating the Eagles. Michael Turner must be licking his chops to go up against the Bucs' rushing defense, which has given up 156 yards per game so far. The Bucs won't be able to sneak up on people the way they did last year, especially not a division rival. These two teams tend to play each other very tough, but in what amounts to a coin flip of a game it just makes more sense to go with the team that you know is slightly better. Josh Freeman has a knack for keeping his team in the game, but I don't know that Tampa has enough answers on defense for what the Falcons offense may present.

SAN DIEGO (-14.5) over Kansas City
Last week the Chargers showed their typical symptoms of the Norv Turner Syndrome that has been plaguing them for four years now. Despite the mistake-and-turnover party the Bolts threw in Foxboro, you still have to like them this week against the Chiefs. Why? Because Jamaal Charles is out for the season, and because KC has been outscored 89-10 in their first two games this year. If the Chiefs had been able to show any sort of fight against Buffalo and/or Detroit, then they'd be a sneaky pick here. But since they haven't been competitive at all thus far, you can't put a dime on Kansas City putting up a good showing in San Diego. The Chargers get healthy here and embark on their latest go-round of beating up on the miserable AFC West.

Last Week: 2-2-1
Season: 4-4-2

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

A very strong Week 3 has pushed me over .500 for the first time this year. Now that this season has gotten into full swing, Week 4 has some of the more interesting matchups that you'll see in the month of September. Home teams in CAPS.

ALABAMA (-12) over Arkansas
Simply put, the defense of the Tide is just too tough, allowing only 170 total yards per game and 6 points per game. Arkansas pushed 'Bama to the edge at home in this game last year, but that was with Ryan Mallett at the helm. The Hogs haven't played anyone yet, and the sight of a wide-eyed Tyler Wilson at Bryant-Denny Stadium come 3:30 on Saturday would be zero shock. At first glance this seems like too many points to give to an Arkansas team ranked 15th, but less than two TD's at home with Alabama isn't a terrible line.

Oklahoma State (+4.5) over TEXAS A&M
The 12th Man at Kyle Field in College Station must really be that powerful, because it has encouraged the public to bet A&M enough to pull this line up from its open at 3. Were this a night game and not a 3:30 game, I'd be more of a believer in the home team and crowd being able to disrupt the high-flying Oklahoma State offense. The Aggies quite possibly have the better overall team (i.e. they don't take an "NBA All-Star Game" approach to defense), but giving 4.5 points to a team that puts up pinball numbers on offense is too much for me to pass up. The Cowboys and Dez Bryant-clone Justin Blackmon would love for this to become a shootout, because in the end the Aggies figure not to be able to trade touchdowns all day.

Vanderbilt (+16) over SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gamecocks struggled with a Georgia team that they are better than, and are now coming off a 24-21 scare at home against Navy. Vandy is 3-0 and has caught enough eyes to warrant an article in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. Is this an instance of Vandy being overvalued and South Carolina being undervalued? Quite possibly. However, I can't go against my gut, which says that Vanderbilt's run defense (85.7 ypg) may force the ol' Ballcoach to rely more on Stephen Garcia to put up the points in this game. Is anyone comfortable laying more than two scores with Stephen Garcia right now? An outright win would be a miracle but the Commodores have done a lot to leave their past ineptitude behind, and a respectable showing would be a good indicator of a new attitude in Nashville.

CLEMSON (-2.5) over Florida State
I feel bad for anyone who hopped on this game at the beginning of the week when the Seminoles were a 3-point road favorite. Thanks to a combination of FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel's injury and reaction to Clemson's win over Auburn and the Noles' loss to Oklahoma, the line has nearly made a complete pendulum swing to Clemson -2.5. Were Manuel not doubtful for this game, I'd be all over FSU to bounce back here, but it's too much to ask right now. I'll roll the dice for less than a field goal in hopes that Clemson handles this case of relative prosperity well.

WEST VIRGINIA (+6) over Louisiana State
I'd have loved for this spread to be in the 7.5 vicinity, especially since LSU will have had 9 days of rest coming into this primetime affair. But the Mountaineers' 3-0 start and the fact that this game has been flexed into the 8pm slot (with College Gameday making the trip, no less) has prevented the line from ballooning. LSU plays superb defense but doesn't dazzle offensively, which could keep the scoring relatively low at Milan Puskar Stadium - in which case, 6 points is pretty inviting. The Mountaineers have had this date circled on the calendar for a long time and it is very likely their biggest game of the regular season. Some will still insist that the Backyard Brawl vs. Pittsburgh is always the biggest, but WVU's Big East schedule looks like more of a formality than anything right now. I expect Dana Holgorsen's 16th-ranked team to come out flying on Saturday night, and maybe a wrinkle or trick at the right time can help pull this game out against the #3 Tigers. Kevin and I, along with blog friends and readers PJ and Tony, will be making the trip for this one, and I can speak for all of us when I say that I hope that no couches will be safe come 11:30pm in Morgantown.

Last Week: 4-1-0
Season: 8-6-1

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Simply That Great

It is a record that, if it were set by someone of lesser stature, would not be taken nearly as seriously. When Trevor Hoffman broke Lee Smith's all-time saves record with his 479th career save in 2006, there wasn't half the acclaim or fanfare as there was this time. Why? Because Mariano was lurking. He was always lurking. He lurked upon the all-time saves mark in the same way that he has lurked upon opponents down by a few runs and running out of outs. When Mo polished off a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Twins on Sept. 19 for his 602nd career save, there was a sense that the record had finally arrived where it belonged, where the world had expected it to end up for the better part of a decade.

And despite what the talking heads on ESPN will tell you, he hasn't "done it all with one pitch the whole time." In the early days, Mariano didn't even have the famed cut fastball; what he had was a four-seam fastball that he could pump up to 97 MPH and a two-seamer that dove right off of your bat if you were too geared up for the heat. By the end of the '90s, he had perfected the cutter and was breaking bats at such an alarming pace that you'd have thought he owned stock in Louisville Slugger, even forcing Ryan Klesko back to the dugout 3 times in a single at-bat in the 1999 World Series. But do not let the allure of Mo's cut fastball fool you. The guy is a pitcher, not a thrower, and he works both sides of the plate as well as anyone. Case in point? Look at the final out of the 602nd save again. A major portion of his strikeouts in recent years have come exactly like that one, a lefty caught looking over the outside corner just because he's so primed for the cutter on the inner half.

The save statistic often gets dismissed by baseball fans and media-types as a function of luck and the modern game's ever-increasing dependance on the bullpen. Saves meant more when Goose Gossage was getting 8 and 9 outs at a time in the '70s, they say, when a guy like Goose or Rollie Fingers would enter games at any point from the 5th inning or later when the starter began to tire or run into trouble. The modern closer is more of a vulture, they say, a compiler of a stat that is based more upon the 24 outs the rest of his team got than the 3 that he got himself.

And you know what? They're not totally wrong. There have been dozens of flash-in-the-pan closers in the past 30 years who have put up a season or two of big save totals. The 40-save plateau has been reached 132 times since 1983, and a few of the esteemed men to do so include Jeff Brantley, Joe Borowski, Danys Baez, Bryan Harvey (10 bucks if you can tell me when he played and who he played for, I didn't even know), and Jose Jimenez. Hell, Derek Lowe once put up a 42-save campaign for Boston and hardly anyone remembers him as anything besides a starting pitcher. As trivial as closers can seem in the regular season, it's the exact opposite in the postseason. Ask the 1996 Braves, 1998 Padres, 2006 Mets, or 2009 Angels how they may have ended up had it not been for their respective "superb" closers faltering at crucial moments. On the other hand, ask the 2008 Phillies if their run through October would have been possible had it not been for Brad Lidge not blowing a single save the entire season.

But for all the closers who have come and gone and eventually been booed off the field, there is one Mariano Rivera. He's been stockpiling the saves for the New York Yankees since 1997, when he took over the closer's role for good after a dynamite 1996 season (2.09 ERA, 130 strikeouts in 107.2 innings, 3rd in AL Cy Young voting), in which he was the most lethal component of a bullpen that carried the team into and through the World Series. He has been in the top 5 of AL Cy Young voting five times, unheard of for a relief pitcher. And not only has he done it for 15 years, but he's been at his best in October: 42 saves and a ridiculous 0.71 ERA for his career in the postseason. And of those 42 postseason saves, an astounding 31 have been appearances of 4 outs or more.

However, when painting the picture of Mo's legacy, I tend to point to three crippling postseason moments that would permanently scar the careers of mere mortals. The Yankees were 4 outs away from clinching the 1997 ALDS against Cleveland when Sandy Alomar Jr. went yard off of Rivera, tying the game and eventually sending the series to a Game 5, which the Yankees lost. Then there was the matter of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, into which I refuse to further delve. And of course, there was the 2004 ALCS Game 4, in which Mo had the chance to finish off a Yankees sweep of the Red Sox, which of course, didn't exactly pan out. (Ill-informed critics will also point out that Mariano also got a blown save in Game 5 of that ALCS, but it came in cleaning up Tom Gordon's 8th inning mess and anyone who watched that game will tell you Rivera did a heck of a job only letting one run score while he was on the mound.)

Why do I choose to point out Mariano's lowest moments? Because it speaks to the rest of his résumé that he can have experienced such monumental failures yet still be considered hands-down the best closer of all time. It takes a serious body of work in order to overcome such things, and Mo has almost rendered them back-burner fodder. He has 5 rings and has been on the mound for the final out of the World Series four times, all while pitching under the New York fans' lofty expectations and media microscope that has chewed up and spit out countless individuals. He is an ace up the sleeve, a game-changing factor long before he steps onto the field. Opposing managers, especially when there is more on the line, are faced with shortened games when #42 is sitting in the bullpen, often forcing their late-game decision making into the earlier innings.

Mo is larger than life, even if drawing attention to himself or away from the team's successes is the last thing he'd really want. His entrance to "Enter Sandman" has made him as synonymous with the song as Metallica himself, even though Rivera himself is indifferent to the song. His methodical, evenly-paced jog from the bullpen to the mound is as intimidating as the drums that would precede an approaching 17th century British infantry unit. It's like walking the Green Mile in reverse, in fact it's the Green Mile is jogging toward you. His entrance, his delivery, his mannerisms, his performance - they've all been so consistent and brilliant over the years that one really may believe that he's a robot. Come to think of it, the word "inhuman" may actually be the best way to describe Mariano Rivera if you are only given one word. I remember seeing him for the first time on the mound at the Kingdome in the 1995 ALCS against Seattle, getting crucial outs late in Game 5. Back then there was definitely the premonition that the Yankees had something with this guy, but not a soul could have predicted or expected the next 16 years. We have witnessed, and are lucky enough to still be witnessing, the best ever. Mariano is simple, Mariano is great. Mariano Rivera is simply that great.

Friday, September 16, 2011

5 for Sunday

Week 2...when everyone is either pricing flights to Indy for the Super Bowl or hanging their head coach in effigy. The season's second week is arguably harder to bet than the first week, because most notions we had believed to be true just 8 days ago are basically out the window, and hardly anyone really knows where to go with the point spreads. Making matters worse, the schedule of games this week is pretty lame. Home teams in CAPS.

NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Chicago
It's a bit surprising that the line is as big as it is here (doesn't 4-5.5 points seem more like it?), but you can't go against the Saints in the Superdome after their offensive showing at Lambeau on opening night. The Bears knocked the Falcons around at home last week, but they are not quite a team built for the fast track and still have trouble protecting Jay Cutler. The loss of Marques Colston is a bit discouraging, but it's still hard to envision Chicago winning this game away from home. The Saints will have had 10 days of rest going into this week, so giving up less than a touchdown to back them in the dome is OK with me.

INDIANAPOLIS (+2.5) over Cleveland
You're telling me you want me to give points on the road with a Browns team that just lost to the Bengals at home? No, thanks. The Colts were in an impossible spot last week in Houston against a team who had given them a run for their money before, even when Peyton Manning was healthy. While this pick isn't exactly an endorsement for the Colts, I'm willing to give Kerry Collins another week to mesh with Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, et al, before envisioning Andrew Luck with a horseshoe on his helmet next year. We all know how pitiful the Colts looked last week, but I still don't see why this game isn't a pick-em.

PITTSBURGH (-14) over Seattle
I don't buy the "oh, the Steelers are really mad after the Ravens destroying them last week, blah blah blah" argument because if all a team has to do is get angry to play good football, then why couldn't they have done it against their bitter rivals? What I do buy is this: a West Coast team quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson flying east for a 1:00 game in one of the toughest places to play. Isn't that the ideal formula to bet against? I don't see the Seahawks' defense forcing 7 turnovers out of Pittsburgh the way that Baltimore did. And on the other side of the ball, it's very likely that the Steelers keep the Seahawks under 10 points.

BUFFALO (-3) over Oakland
The Raiders thoroughly outplayed Denver last week but still had to hold on at the end for a 23-20 win, while Buffalo sent Kansas City back to 2009 with a 41-7 shellacking at Arrowhead. Am I drinking the Bills kool-aid? Maybe a little bit, but this game is also an instance of a West Coast team, on a short week, flying east for a 1:00 game (sorry if I harp on this topic too much, but it's tough to deny). Darren McFadden may very well run wild against the Bills defense, but the Raiders' overall lack of discipline may cost them against the Bills sneaky-decent offense, especially as they move further into the post-Nnamdi era. If none of the above happens, then I promise to not even think about taking the Bills for at least a month.

San Diego (+7) over NEW ENGLAND
Lost in the shuffle of Tom Brady throwing for 517 yards against Miami is that the Patriots' defense allowed the Dolphins to move the ball up and down the field most of the night. The Chargers, who only gave up 39 passing yards to Donovan McNabb last week, aren't about to give up another 500 to Brady. The game still figures to be a shootout, but I think the 7 points are more of an overreaction to Week 1 than anything else, even if the Foxborough crowd is nice and "lubed up" at their quarterback's request.

Last Week: 2-2-1

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

Restored a little bit of order with a 3-2-1 showing last Saturday. Week 3 gives us a fairly appetizing slate of games for the first time this season. Home teams in CAPS.

Louisiana State (-3.5) OVER MISSISSIPPI STATE
I usually don't take Thursday games, but I plan to have an eye on this game and generally won't skip over a matchup of ranked opponents this early in the season. LSU passed its lone test against Oregon with flying colors while Mississippi State got outdueled last week by an Auburn team still trying to find its identity. The Tigers' defense, which is only giving up 45.5 ypg rushing, figures to be the difference maker here. There's no reason for the #25 Bulldogs to not put up a good fight, but LSU wins this game by 6-10 points.

West Virginia (+1) over MARYLAND
Had the Terps not made a statement in beating Miami on Labor Day evening, this game might have been problematic for #20 WVU, who trailed Norfolk State at halftime last week before putting up 45 unanswered second-half points. All in all, this is a game that Bill Stewart would have lost and Dana Holgorsen will find a way to win. Despite the effort put forth against the depleted Hurricanes two weeks ago, I don't know that Maryland will have enough on defense to contain the Mountaineers' quick-strike capabilities in the end.

Michigan State (+5) over NOTRE DAME
When I first saw this line I asked Kevin, "wait, is Michigan State bad this year and nobody happens to know it?" The Spartans are ranked 15th but have yet to face a real test, while the Irish, now you know their deal. Can Notre Dame stop doing their Dallas Cowboys impression and quit making mistakes that cost them games (the similarities really are frightening in that way)? Will they stop leaving wheel routes unattended on the wide side of the field when protecting a 3-point lead in the final minute? Part of me doubts that they will go 0-3, but Notre Dame is really going to have to show the world something before anyone should be comfortable playing them as anything more than a field goal favorite.

MIAMI (-2.5) over Ohio State
Jacory Harris returns for the Hurricanes and will have the luxury of Ohio State being without one of its top pass-rushers, DE Nathan Williams. The Buckeyes may have been looking ahead to this week's matchup (if you believe in that sort of thing, which I really don't) in sleepwalking through a 27-22 victory over Toledo last week. Miami, on the other hand, has had an extra week to get their first team offense back in order and stew over their loss to Maryland. I think Harris can make enough plays to win this game late, which he may have to because the Ohio State defense is still pretty strong against the run. But if he does? Hookers for everyone! (Too soon?)

Oklahoma (-3) over FLORIDA STATE
One team thinks that it's ready for the big lights, but the other team knows that it is. Is Florida State all the way back? Only time will tell, but I think it's safe to say that going into Tallahassee on a Saturday night is still not as scary a proposition (football-wise, at least) as it was, say, 15 years ago. Neither team has gone up against a viable opponent yet this year, so for now the smarter money is on the experience of Landry Jones and Bob Stoops over E.J. Manuel and Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles may be a year away from serious BCS contention, so Boomer Sooner by 7 or more this Saturday night.

Last Week: 3-2-1
Season: 4-5-1

5 for Saturday

I am 4-6 on the season after back to back 2-3 weeks.  This week has several intriguing matchups and I will pick the best matchups.


LSU (-3.5) @ Miss St

This is a big game for Thursday night football.  Miss St. was stopped on the goal line with a chance to tie on the final play weekend against Auburn.  Their defense surrendered 41 points which was always going to be a concern when Manny Diaz left town.  I bet against LSU in week one and for Miss St in week two so I'm flip floping here and betting LSU.


Auburn (+3.5) @ Clemson

Last year's game was a classic that made people take Auburn seriously.  This year people are expecting or more accurately hoping Auburn will fail.  For the second year in a row Auburn has a chance to prove its detractors wrong.

Tennessee (+9.5) @ Florida

Call me nuts but I think Tennessee wins outright despite going into the Swamp. I have been impressed by Derek Dooley when he's not taking about shower hygenie or comparing his team to Rommel's men.    At the least this game should be low scoring which will help the Vols against the number.

Ohio State (-2) @ Miami

The Ineligibowl presented by Jim Tressel, Nevin Shapiro, and Edward Rife.  Ohio State nearly lost to Toledo last week, but Miami does not overly impress me.  Jacoby Harris was pretty bad last season after a breakout Sophomore campaign.  Is it even a good thing he is back?  We will see, but regardless Miami gets 5 starters back from suspension.  Ohio State is stuck with Joe Bauserman handing the ball off like a Baus, because of a lack of offensive weapons.  This game should have 5 combined turnovers with the defense making plays left and right.  Depsite going to Miami, I expect OSU to have a large percentage of the fans there. This game could go either way, but I think the Buckeyes survive.

Oklahoma (-3) @ Florida State

I do not think that Florida State is quite ready for this matchup.  Oklahoma has superior talent on both sides of the ball and the experience to back to handle this enviroment.

Friday, September 9, 2011

5 for Saturday

2-3 Last Week

Mississippi State (-5.5) @ Auburn 12:21 PM ESPN 3, SEC Network
Last year's matchup ended in a 17-10 victory for Auburn in one of the most impressive defense performances of the season against Auburn.  This year Cam Newton is gone, but so is Miss St. DC Manny Diaz. I'm taking Miss State by a touchdown in 24-17 game.

Alabama (-10) @ Penn State 3:30PM ABC

Penn State has a punchers chance especially with this game being at home.  This game should feature heavily on the ground with neither teams quarterback or backups quarterback being trusted.  I think Bama will roll.
South Carolina @ Georgia (+2.5) 4:30 ESPN

Georgia needs this game so I'm going to pick them two weeks in a row.  South Carolina is a team that will be good but i expect a slow start to the season.  Steven "I swear I'm sober now" Garcia is not truseted by Spurrier but he's going to need to go the full 60 if the Gamecocks are going to win.
TCU @ Air Force (Pickem) 3:30 Versus

TCU looked atrocious on defense last week, and they don't get any breaks with the triple option of Air Force.  I'm taking Air Force in this pickem.

Notre Dame @ Michigan (+4.5) 8PM ESPN

The first night game in Michigan history is going to be a real endurance test for me.  I will be driving out Friday and getting up early for College Gameday saturday morning and hanging around campus until kickoff. Look for me in row 70 in the corner of the endzone, I swear you will see in what will be the largest crowd in the history of Michigan football.

Michigan proabably deserves to be slight dog in this one, but if history is any indicator you always take the dog to win outright in this matchup.  Notre Dame is coming off a tough opening loss to South Florida in which they doubled up the Bulls in yardage.  Notre Dame needs to win this football game to get their season back on track.  The most reassuring sight to Michigan fans was seeing Denard in the shotgun about 70% of the time against Western Michigan, resembling a good portion of last year's prolific offense.  The defense on the other hand still looked pretty bad in week one.  If not for forcing key turnovers and a missed Western kick they score 20 points in three quarters.  The true litmus test comes against Notre Dame though so we'll reserve judgment on both sides of the ball.

Tommy Reiss is likely to start at Quarterback for Notre Dame after Dayne Crist was given a quick hook last week.  While he has played fairly well going back to last year, if it were me I'd play the more seasoned Crist.  Michigan gets back Troy Wolfolk at CB and Ricky Barnum at LG so they should be healthier than last week.

I have a weird feeling about this game but I'm going to play the historic numbers here and ultimately go with my heart.

5 for Sunday

After much lockout nonsense, the NFL returns to full-swing this weekend, albeit with the nation's heart heavy in remembrance of 9/11 on its tenth anniversary. Home teams in CAPS.

ST. LOUIS (+4.5) over Philadelphia
Ah, the rites of fall - cooler weather, leaves, and me picking against the Eagles. I readily admit that this is a biased pick, but the Rams are an up-and-coming team. Fortunately, they steer clear of the "new hot team of the year" curse, which this year is a toss up between Detroit and Houston. Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo has made his bacon on solving tough offenses, and while his work will be cut out for him against Mike Vick et al, this is still a pretty good matchup. Why? Because the Eagles, in building a supposed Dream Team, neglected to put together a defense with one actual tackler. The Rams would be well-served to gut the Eagles up the middle with Steven Jackson and use the Sam Bradford-to-Danny Amendola combo on passing downs to move the chains. Anything that keeps the Eagles offense off the field will help the Rams at least keep this close.

CLEVELAND (-6.5) over Cincinnati
I'm not betting on the Browns, I'm just betting against the Bengals. Andy Dalton figures to take the first of many lumps this year at the helm for Cincy, and while A.J. Green is a nice weapon, both of them are learning on the fly together. And how much can the Bengals rely on any running game, with Cedric Benson spending 5 days in jail last week and guard Bobbie Williams suspended? The Browns playbook could consist of nothing more than Peyton Hillis left, Peyton Hillis right, and Peyton Hillis up the middle, and that would be enough to cover this one.

Buffalo (+6) over KANSAS CITY
The Chiefs snuck up on a lot of people last year, but it may be an even bigger surprise if they return to the playoffs this year. Matt Cassel has been upgraded to probable for this game with a rib injury, but even if he were 100% healthy I still would have given the Bills a puncher's chance. Buffalo is short on talent but not on fight, and played enough solid games against solid teams last year to prove that. If they can roll coverage in Dwayne Bowe's direction (an easier task given the season-ending injury to TE Tony Moeaki) and keep Jamaal Charles from steamrolling people in the open field, then there's no reason that the Bills can't circle the wagons and make this a close, ugly game - a game they could very well win outright.

ARIZONA (-7) over Carolina
If you can't ride a team at home against the Panthers, then when can you ride them? While I'm not ready to hand Kevin Kolb 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns the way an alarming number of people are, there is no question that Larry Fitzgerald will be able to stretch his legs out there for the first time since Kurt Warner retired. Cam Newton makes his NFL debut, and while he may dazzle at times (like many have tended to do against the Cardinals defense), I think he'll cough one up in the second half that will put this game out of reach.

Dallas (+5) over NY JETS
The Cowboys have made some very curious personnel decisions recently, essentially jettisoning 60% of their offensive line in favor of two rookies and a third-year man with one career start. Making matters worse, Terence Newman has been declared out, and RT (9th overall draft pick) Tyron Smith is questionable, along with CB Mike Jenkins. Then why am I still taking Dallas to cover? Because Tony Romo is going to have to get rid of the ball very quickly on Sunday night, which means a ton of work for Jason Witten against a defense that has been victimized by opposing tight ends many times in recent years. And while Rob Ryan's new defense is not going to mesh well immediately, I do believe it will at least free DeMarcus Ware up from double-teams enough to get to Mark Sanchez once or twice and maybe even force a turnover. There is going to be a ton of energy at newly-named MetLife Stadium on the anniversary of 9/11, so an outright Cowboys win would be a big surprise, but not as big a surprise as a lopsided game either way would be.

Last Season: 42-41-2

Cinq (et un) Pour Samedi

In an odd turn of events, the Marshall/West Virginia game last week turned into a no-action bet for me after being called in the 4th quarter due to lightning. Had the score at the time (WVU 34, Marshall 13) held up, it would have been a cover for Marshall (+23) and a win for me, but we'll never know. I am going to take an extra game this week to compensate, which could very well be a recipe for disaster considering Week 2's lackluster schedule, featuring only one matchup between ranked opponents. Home teams in CAPS.

NORTH CAROLINA (-10) over Rutgers
This is the kind of game you look at when you have to take a sixth game. Rutgers, a bad team, getting less than two touchdowns on the road against North Carolina, an average team? These are exactly the types of games in which Rutgers tends to fold like a lawn chair - you know, the games against actual college football programs and not the likes of Florida International, Texas Southern, Norfolk State, and last week's opponent North Carolina Central. Not that the Tar Heels went up against world-beaters either in their Week 1 drubbing of James Madison (although JMU did beat Virginia Tech last year), but their combo of QB Bryn Renner and 6'-4", 225-lb. WR Dwight Jones should create enough mismatches against the Rutgers secondary to win by two scores.

Nevada (+26.5) over OREGON
It may be fashionable to pick against Oregon after their disappointing Week 1 effort against LSU, but this is more a bet for Nevada than anything else. The Wolf Pack, aka the team that knocked off Boise State last year, returns much of the same defense that could keep this from being too easy of a day for the Ducks. Also, this is Nevada's first game of the year, meaning that they have had their sights set on Eugene, Oregon for the entire offseason. I still don't think they can win outright, but if they keep Oregon under 40 points then the chances for a cover are decent.

South Carolina (-3) over GEORGIA
Georgia may have been given a bit too much credit a bit too soon, judging by the egg they laid against Boise State. This team is still relatively young and is sure to get better as the season goes on, but even if the Bulldogs had beaten Boise I still think I'd have like South Carolina here. The reason? Marcus Lattimore facing a Georgia defense that gave up 129 yards on the ground to Boise, who is not exactly considered a punishing running team. My only concern is South Carolina having to play a fully contested game for the first time all year, but they still look like they can win by a touchdown.

Alabama (-10) over PENN STATE
Does Penn State belong on the same field as Alabama? I still don't think so and it's going to take a good deal of convincing to get me to sway on that. Is Penn State, unsettled QB position and all, going to put up more than 14 points against Alabama? Are they going to put up more than 10? Too many scenarios are easily envisioned in which the Nittany Lions are held to single digits. On the other side of the ball, this could be Trent Richardson's first "Heisman résumé builder" game. I don't think it will be a shellacking, but the Tide rolls by double digits anyhow.

Brigham Young (+7) over TEXAS
Are the Longhorns ready to inch back to national prominence after last year's accidental rebuilding year? We'll find out over the next month as conference games ensue, but for now BYU presents an interesting challenge in Austin. In what is likely going to be a low-scoring game, 7 points is just fine with me. Also tipping the scales in favor of BYU for me was this quote from Mack Brown: "We're not significantly better than anybody we'll play that's left on the schedule," he said. "So, we need to stay healthy, we need to improve, and we need to do our best job coaching in my estimation, since our first year here." So yeah, give me BYU and the 7.

MICHIGAN (+3.5) over Notre Dame
As with any Michigan game, Kevin's analysis will dwarf mine in size and quality. But is Notre Dame, who was caught napping in their freaking home opener against South Florida, really a team you're willing to lay points with on the road? Would it help if I told you that Brian Kelly has hit the panic button and switched QB's again? All eyes should be on Ann Arbor in the Big House's first ever night game, and if the Wolverines can manage to play a bend-but-don't-break defensive game, there's no reason that this once won't at least come down to a field goal in either direction.

Last Week: 1-3-0

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cinq Pour Samedi

It's back! Thanks to football season, you can expect at least three new columns per week produced between Kevin and I. As we did last year, Kevin and I will each pick 5 college football games against the spread every week from now until Bowl season, and I will put up a separate weekly piece in which I handicap 5 NFL games. What's on the line, you ask? Well, since last year's duel ended up in a pretty admirable stalemate (although I'd like to think I have the style-points edge for my Bowl picks column, but you be the judge), we really have no clue what's on the line because nobody won or lost - and thus nobody had to pay up. The stakes range from mere bragging rights to maybe a 12-pack of Guinness, but nothing's written in stone. Either way, it's just nice to be talking about football again (wait, I hardly mentioned football at all in that paragraph). Home teams in CAPS (and not because that's the way Bill Simmons does it, but because it just makes things easier).

NOTRE DAME (-10) over South Florida
I'm drinking the Irish Kool-Aid for now, largely thanks to the team's great 2010 finish and 16 returning starters. South Florida will be anything but wide-eyed going into South Bend, with former Irish player and coach Skip Holtz (son of Lou Holtz) leading them. The Bulls have proven themselves over the past 5 years to be no walkover and a perennial Big East dark horse (whether that's a real compliment or not, you can decide), but despite all the speed they have, they were 101st in the nation last year in passing. If Notre Dame gets out to a lead of 13 or more at any point, you may be able to shut the book on South Florida. Brian Kelly has too much to lose to drop this one at home, even with next week's much-anticipated date with Michigan in Ann Arbor looming ahead.

Oregon (-1) over LSU (neutral site)
Quite a few variables in this game. How will each team be represented in terms of fans at the annual Jerry Bowl, held at neutral-site Cowboys Stadium? Will LSU, in the wake of last week's bar fight, be playing with a full roster, most notably quarterback Jordan Jefferson? Will Oregon's fast-paced offense, which blistered its opponents through the regular season in 2010 but was held to 19 points in the BCS Championship Game, return to form? And what garish uniform combo will the Ducks be sporting? One of the only constants in this game figures to be Oregon RB LaMichael James, a Heisman finalist last year and an early favorite for this year's award. If he and Darron Thomas can get Oregon going offensively, I don't know that LSU will have the weapons (or at least, the experienced weapons) to keep up.

Marshall (+23) over WEST VIRGINIA
Our readers know that whatever college football loyalties do I have lie with West Virginia, but I expect the Mountaineers to struggle a little bit in this one. For Marshall, this is their Super Bowl, (if you're the type who likes to bet halves, I'd throw solid money down on Marshall in the first half) and in the past two years the Herd has given WVU all they could handle until the end. If Bill Stewart were still coaching the team, it would be easy to say that WVU will be ill-prepared for this in-state rivalry, as the Mountaineers under Stewart tended to look past lesser teams fairly often. However, I do think new head coach Dana Holgorsen is going to be out to prove that he's no Bill Stewart. The problem is that Holgorsen's spread out pass-heavy offensive system has a lot of moving parts and cannot be expected to go smoothly in its first go-round, despite Geno Smith's potential as a passer. Consider also the fact that the Mountaineers are unsettled at tailback for the first time in 6 years, so it wouldn't shock you if WVU has trouble sustaining drives. The public has bet this line up from an 18.5-point opening, and I think 23 points is just too many to lay here.

Georgia (+3) over Boise State (neutral site)
It's a de facto home game for the Bulldogs as they face Boise State in Atlanta. Can Georgia's young defense keep Kellen Moore from lighting up the Georgia Dome? If it gets to that point, Georgia may still have a puncher's chance in a shootout, as the silver lining to last year's 6-7 season was the development of now-Sophomore QB Aaron Murray (3,049 yds/24 TD/8 INT). Neither team has an experienced receiving corps, so such a shootout is no guarantee. A crowd-influenced big defensive play might have to be what wins it for Georgia, who cannot afford to waste time out of the gate. A rebound season is expected for the 22nd-ranked Bulldogs, and we will know immediately what they are made of - a matchup with South Carolina awaits after this one.

MARYLAND (+5.5) over Miami
The lines are all over the place for Monday night's game between the Terps and whatever half of the Hurricanes are eligible to play. Miami QB Jacory Harris is the most notable of the eight 'Canes serving a suspension in light of the booster gift scandal uncovered a few weeks ago. Does Maryland have enough, in the first game of the Randy Edsall era, to take advantage of Miami's depleted ranks? The Terps are going to have to grind it out on the ground to keep their relatively inexperienced defense off the field (even without Harris, Miami still figures to be able to run circles around Maryland on offense), so if senior RB Davin Meggett (yes, David's son), who averaged 5.7 YPC in 2010, is up to the task as the starter, this could be a pretty interesting game in front of what should be a pumped up home crowd.

Last Season: 40-30-5

5 for Opening Weekend


TCU (-6) at Baylor, 8 PM ESPN
Let's face it: The season opens with a whimper Thursday. The Horned Frogs routed Baylor 45-10 last season, but this game should be more competitive. New TCU QB Casey Pachall will be challenged right away by a road start. TCU expects its defense to be stifling as always, but dynamic Baylor QB Robert Griffin III is capable of leading his team to victory.  I will take TCU by a touchdown though.


USF (+10) at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m., NBC. Skip Holtz will face his father's old team to open the season, the first time a Holtz has been on a Notre Dame sideline since Lou left in 1996. Notre Dame enters the season with its highest preseason ranking since 2006, but the opener won't be easy. USF brings a quick and aggressive defense to South Bend. South Florida should be able to keep this game close whether Notre Dame's offense is clicking or not.  Brian Kelly couldn't be bothered to sit star WR receiver out a half for a DUI offense (to go along with two underage offenses) so the offense should be fine. While I am certainly not a fan of Notre Dame I do think they will have a solid season. 

UCLA at Houston (-3) 3:30 FSN

Case Keenum got hurt in this matchup last year and the NCAA approved his redshirt for what seems like his 9th season.  Keenum had to sit idle as Houston got stomped at the Rose Bowl.  This year he gets his revenge.

LSU vs. Oregon (-3.5) in JerryWorld 8 PM ABC
First of all do not over react to Jordan Jefferson being suspended in this one. If you are going to take Oregon in this one do so because you believe that the other shoe is finally going to drop at LSU.  Oregon needs this win in a bad way.  They are dying for respect from the rest of the country and they are banging on the door of the elite football programs.  Saturday night they should take a major step towards that goal.

Georgia (+3) vs. Boise State in Atlanta,Georgia 8 PM ESPN
I'm big on a Georgia turnaround this year that should see them get 10 wins so I like them outright here.  Unfornuately as fans, we will have to choose between the two best games of the weekend thanks to the brillant network executives at the WWL.